3.1 Climbing Mt. Improbable: The Eonic Effect
Looking backward, world history shows the unexpected evidence of a non-random pattern, one that we should naturally call ‘evolution’. We simply assume the flow of world history follows random logic, conditioned as we are by Darwinism. Yet the rapid growth of archaeological knowledge since the nineteenth century is moving to falsify this assumption and has greatly expanded our views of the emergence of civilization and, significantly, crossed a threshold of five thousand years, the bare minimum interval, we are about to see, for grasping the logic of historical evolution. Such a non-random process is the clue to something going on at a deeper level. The pattern itself suggests a developmental sequence of self-organization at work, something that is ‘climbing Mt. Improbable’. Indeed, we should call this ‘evolution’. This ‘evolution’, on reflection, must be connected in some fashion to earlier stages of human evolution. A non-random pattern on this scale shows us something missing in Darwinian thinking and falls into the category of ‘evolution’, ‘evolution of some kind’, with a question, What is the meaning of evolution?
We can easily prove the point by simply laying out a careful timeline. World history since the invention of writing shows an exact systematics, often down to the decade, an unnerving warning about earlier periods with less data. If we examine this pattern of developmental emergence and connect its timeline with man’s earlier evolution, we realize that they must be connected. We are suddenly suspicious that a process like what we see in world history is present, but invisible in the earlier phases of human evolution. We begin to suspect that we need a ‘centuries-level standard’, evidence at very close range to detect what is really driving evolution.
Paleolithic Current evidence distinguishes anatomically and behaviorally ‘modern’ man, the first appearing ca. 200,000 years ago, the second in the period after -100,000, with the remarkable threshold, often called the Great Explosion, somewhere between -100,000 to -50,000, associated we are to suppose with various ‘Out of Africa’ scenarios. Darwinists are determined to ignore this phenomenon, but the evidence makes no sense as slow evolution.
Was there a ‘Great Explosion’? The evidence points to a sudden crossing of a threshold. Once we see our historical pattern in action this sudden passage begins to make sense, because we can see that something more than natural selection is operating in a relatively short period of time, possibly in intervals of five to ten thousand years. We see, in any case, that world history is an instance of a ‘great explosion’, the rapid emergence of civilization over ten millennia. We strongly suspect this ‘evolution of civilization’ is related to the earlier evolution of man.
At the very least in the debates over fast and slow evolution, we seem forced to conclude that many of the behavioral characteristics of a new species appear quickly. Both slow and fast evolution are occurring overlaid, please note. But these periods of rapid emergence are completely beyond the range of our emerging historical standard, the ‘centuries level’, and we can only wait for further research to confirm or falsify this emerging but fuzzy picture of the suspiciously sudden appearance of homo sapiens. The obvious resemblance of the phenomenon of the so-called Great Explosion to the eonic effect leaves an immediate question mark for Darwinian claims, or plaintive hopes, that some lucky mutation suddenly appears to accompany the seeming fait accompli of a hominid so accomplished in language, art, religion, and the elements of ‘technical ingenuity’ that will transform the nature of cultural evolution. As we study the eonic effect, we will begin to see what we are probably missing. We suddenly realize we have a demonstration of how the earlier rapid evolution might have occurred!
The Neolithic A relatively static period ensues until, in the interstices of the various Ice Age rhythms, human cultural evolution begins to take off with the discovery of agriculture. Man emerges from the Paleolithic and by sometime around -8000 we see the Neolithic underway. Our non-random process probably begins, or restarts here, but even this early Neolithic still fails our ‘centuries level’ test. This is the true beginning of ‘civilization’, in the progression, village, town, city, and we arrive at the emergence of complex states, often called the ‘rise of civilization’. It is probably in this era, incidentally, that we are to find the birth of ‘religion’ in the later sense of what we see as the ‘world religions’. Five thousand years separate the onset of the Neolithic and the rise of higher civilization. We are drawn to a distinction between the ‘discovery of agriculture’, a technological advance, one that may or may not have happened independently several times, and the crystallizing cultural formations that transform Paleolithic man as he enters into an entirely new stage of social evolution. And this is related to the fact that the prime focus of the Neolithic lies in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. In fact, the remarkable technological complexity of irrigation societies that we see in the coming world of the Sumerians is already an advanced descendant of these earlier advances.
A Non-random Pattern Now we come to the remarkable pattern that we will call the eonic effect, visible since the invention of writing: three periods in a row of rapid transition, equally spaced, inside the slower current of world history, relatively static by comparison. We can see world civilization divide into three epochs driven at the start by rapid advance. Three complex transitions ca. 2400 years apart fret the whole of world history. This pattern is a complete giveaway: it shows an exact developmental sequence of a special kind in a series of selected regions that demonstrate ‘transitions’ to a new stage of civilization. These areas then advance the whole by diffusion.
Mystery ‘Force X’ We commented before on the necessity to consider the ‘force of evolution’, in any sense, and our pattern betrays such a ‘force’ (we may not use that word) very directly. Careful accounting of time-periods shows us almost by definition the mysterious ‘evolutionary driver’ operating behind the scenes, visible in the clear sequence of sudden surges of advance. It is probable we are missing the earlier stages of this in the Neolithic.
Rise of higher civilization Suddenly around the end of the third millennium we see what is conventionally called the ‘rise of (higher) civilization’ in the dramatic, and synchronous emergence of the Sumerian and Egyptian complexes. Note the confusing way that two mainlines appear in parallel, a phenomenon we will see frequently, especially in the next so-called Axial Age. These two civilizations cross a threshold into a stage of higher social complexity, indicated by the scale of their social and political formation. They will prove the dynamic sources for millennia in the oikoumenes or diffusion fields that they generate. We had thought that this was an ad hoc advance based on contingent factors as described in the various unsuccessful theories attempting to explain the phenomenon (e.g. Toynbean ‘challenge and response’). But in fact we detect an element of timing in a process that has a mysterious ‘scheduling’ or cyclical period, the clue to some kind of developmental sequence in the large. Notable among a host of innovations is the invention of writing, the beginning of the historical record, and here we detect the beginnings of our non-random pattern. Three times in a row we will see this phenomenon of three or so centuries of sudden advance, the achievement of a plateau that is never matched by its immediate successors which are relatively static or even moving into ‘medieval’ decline. Nothing in this gainsays prior slow development. Slow and fast evolution are both the case, overlaid. But the sudden jump to a new social formation has always been a puzzle, and we will see that to our surprise the timing is non-random. Here is where we find the resolution of the Axial paradox. The Axial Age is simply the next in our series of such sudden jumps, transitions, or turning points. But it adds a new twist: sudden development is a series of parallel transitions across Eurasia (a close look shows a similar effect in the previous case, Sumer and Egypt).
Transition 1 We are really talking about the emergence of complex forms of the State. This occurs in the centuries before and around -3000, and we have the invention of writing, and the sudden onset of two classic advanced civilizations, Dynastic Egypt and the world of Sumer. Two (relative) starts in parallel. This period is conventionally described as the ‘rise of civilization’, although the slow transition, village, town, city that defines the Neolithic is all too obviously an earlier stage of gestating ‘civilization’. But a new threshold of human social complexity clearly comes into existence very rapidly at the end of the third millennium BCE. This could be seen as ‘state formation’. This initial burst of advances rapidly becomes fixed in place until the next phase. Nothing can quite match the creative phase of early Sumerian city-states, and the large oikoumenes generated show the drift into empire formation that characterizes the coming centuries. The world of Egypt produces its theocratic state and then remains almost frozen in place for two millennia. This transitional period generates an immense diffusion field across Eurasia, and we can clock the rise of complex states almost in proportion to distance and time in the wake of this phase: the Indic and Chinese systems are underway within a millennium. This period is still a bit murky, just on the threshold of our centuries-level test. We can see that slow and fast evolution are reconciled in practice. Both are true. And we realize why we are unclear how to refer to the ‘rise of civilization’. It has been rising since the Neolithic. We are referring to the sudden transition that takes place in our eonic series. This point becomes clearer as we examine the next phase, the Axial Age.
Transition 2 The next rapid burst is the so-called Axial Age, from around -900 to -400, the period from -900 to -600 being the real generative period. Around a center of gravity ca. -600 we have the beginnings of our classical traditions, the world of the Greeks, the core Old Testament and its Prophets, the world of Buddha and Confucius. We see independent sourcing areas suddenly undergoing transformation in synchronous timing. From this period springs the constellation of great traditions that lay the foundations not only for ‘western’ civilization, but the civilizations of India, China. The Axial Age can be confusing because of its wide dispersion of effects from Rome to China. But this is because we think in terms of ‘civilizations’ while our pattern respects and acts only in relation to short intervals of action, and their subsequent diffusion fields. The areas that respond in Axial phenomenon already lie in the wake of the diffusion field from the first transition.
The phenomenon of the Axial Age is so spectacular and occurs at such high speed, within ca. three centuries, that our confidence in earlier theories about human or other evolution plummets. The Axial Age shows a series of independently parallel emerging zones of advance.
The diversity of the Axial Age is remarkable and we see not only the birth of two world religions, but of the world’s first democracy, and the first Scientific Revolution in Greece. We cannot ascribe this phenomenon to slow evolution. There are no sociological antecedents that can explain this phenomenon, the more so as it is independently emerging in unconnected regions simultaneously.
Note that the Israelites had a sense of this phenomenon, but localized to their own cultural world. The confusion of emergent theism and historical transformation has made it difficult for us to discuss the question of the Axial Age, since it is (not surprisingly) confused with an ‘age of Revelation’. We should note that the Israelites were reluctant to speak of divinity, preferring abstractions such as IHVH. We must confront the fact that a sense of design arises in relation to the phenomenon of the Axial Age. But on reflection and close examination we begin to see that the sense of design yields to the sense of a complex system at work, one of evolutionary potential.
This period reaches a plateau, as innovation becomes less intense, and in fact many of the innovations die out as this period wanes rapidly and we enter period of the Occidental Roman Empire and its long decline, followed by what we call the Middle Ages.
We could almost guess the next step in the series. The only period that resembles the Axial transition is the sudden rise of the modern.
Transition 3 It is the realization that modernity is connected to all this that is the surprising fitting together of the last piece of the puzzle of world history. Thus, once again quite suddenly we see the remarkable rise, with uncanny timing, of the modern world, a great take-off about 1500. This is not the same as the so-called Renaissance, nor is it slow evolution from the Middle Ages (which is present in any case). In three centuries starting in the sixteenth century the world system is transformed and reaches a new level of civilization and cultural organization. It seems as if many of the processes of the Axial period suddenly revive and echo in the modern transition: another rise of science, another democratic revolution. All at once we realize that the progression from the Axial period into a protracted medievalism, followed by the sudden rise of the modern world, is no accident. It is part of the precise timing of our mysterious pattern. We have become hopelessly confused by the question of Eurocentrism and so-called ‘Western Civilization’ in discussions of the modern world. But as we study the eonic effect as a whole we will discover its various properties, among them a kind of ‘frontier effect’, whereby each of our transitions moves to the exterior frontier of its prior diffusion. The confusions of Eurocentrism are a distraction. We see that our pattern exploits a transition region for its renewal, and always from the fringes of its previous action, the obvious explanation for the Euro-centered transition area. The emergence of modernity at the fringes of Eurasia is thus a side effect of the overall pattern. The period from 1500 to 1800 is the crucial transitional interval, a claim that clarifies at one stroke the confusions of historical dynamics mixed with modern/postmodern distractions. We should note that each of our transitions occurs in a staging area, whence its effect spreads by diffusion in a process of globalization. The Euro-centered staging area of modernity is thus explained by its place in our eonic series, along with the remarkable insight that historical evolution is occurring on two levels, in a global process that acts on the whole via a series of local parts.
This mysterious drumbeat hides an unsuspected dynamism and answers directly to the enigma of the evolution of human civil existence in a series of discrete periods. We have used the term ‘punctuation’ for a reason: the phenomenon gives us an almost perfect representation of ‘punctuated equilibrium’, and shows us a genuine instance of some form of ‘macroevolution’, if we can understand the relationship of history and evolution. In fact, ‘punctuated disequilibrization’ might also describe the phenomenon, since the effect is to rouse a steady state into a dynamic one. This usage of the term ‘punctuated equilibrium’ has little to do with prior definitions, so we could take the term as if coined from scratch. It shows what a real ‘punctuated equilibrium’ process is like in an actual instance seen at close range.
A closer look, in the arduous inquiries at deeper zoom levels, reveals the need to revise assumptions of historical continuity with a balanced conception of discontinuity. These discontinuities are unmistakable and are especially clear in the period ca. -900 to -600 of the extraordinary synchronous emergence of the classical traditions. Suddenly, in China, India, the Middle East and Greece, the forms of culture undergo a cultural acceleration in a synchronous parallelism that is quite mysterious. Everything seems done in a flash. The world of Classical Greece flowers, and, like an apparition, the moment is gone. Israel sees its age of the Prophets, the Exile, and the emergence of a new religious matrix. In India and China, we find the same, in a period that produces the seminal foundations for a whole era. For centuries to come men look back at this era. The monuments of the earlier age of Egypt and Mesopotamia fall into oblivion and disappear in sand. The discontinuity is not a gap, far from it, it is a clustering of innovations, a packed field of sudden creative advances over a brief interval of history.
A Strategy of Globalization Our pattern can be confusing at first, but on reflection makes complete sense: it moves in parallel and redundant failsafe streams, which become multiple in the Axial Age, to embrace diversity, then the process contracts at the end in the modern transition, obviously because imminent globalization requires a single focus. This pattern shows a clear strategic element.
This synchronism began to be observed in the nineteenth century, but has failed to become well known, for the nature of its dynamic is difficult to pinpoint, and it controversially forces us to revise our views of the Great Religions. This reluctance to see the Axial effects is not surprising, since we are talking about fields of free activity that show structure over a period of centuries, a seeming contradiction. But the evidence can’t be denied. This synchronism implies the discontinuous temporal phase is the crucial determinant, independently of any continuous runway leading to the sudden flowerings of individual areas. Causal continuity is clearly violated. It is hard to reconstruct, let alone visualize, the correct sequence of emergence. We see the peaks stand out, great religious founders, art, philosophers, new political forms, then a distinct fall-off. But the overall picture is clear. Its implications indicate that cultural evolution is, so to speak, hyper-cultural in a generalized system of evolutionary emergence, an extraordinary fact, and the one great clue to evolution in action.
The modern transition: a model It is useful to consider the modern example, which is fully visible in detail, as a model for the earlier transitions. We see that a statistical region of three centuries expresses an intermittent action that ratchets to a new level of culture. This three-centuries interval has a conclusion, or ‘divide’ point, clearly visible in the modern case. This modern example can help us to understand what is happening in the previous cases.
It has often been noticed, as in this instance, that the record of human history shows a strange patchwork of fast advances, and slower periods that are relatively static. This fact alone should alert us to the existence of historical dynamism. Our use of the term ‘medieval’ is quite revealing in this regard. We call the period from the fall of the Roman Empire until modern times a ‘middle age’. This ‘middleness’ is a clue to how we in fact take our own history, not quite sure why, although we can see that the source of this earlier world lies in the onset of the classical age, many centuries before. This era rose to a height that was never matched until after 1500. The same relationship is now visible in the era prior to this, at the birth of complex civilization. The obvious suggestion is that discrete and continuous processes are blended in the context of a macrohistorical system, if we can define it. We will use the term ‘mideonic’ to refer to the intervals in full between our turning points.
The rise of civilization from the Neolithic takes place quickly around the end of the fourth millennium, in Egypt and Sumer. This is followed by the long eras that characterize these distinct forms of culture, more or less set in their pattern. Then, in the centuries just before -600 we find civilization on the move again, this time, as noted, in a broad field of rapid parallel advance. Another period of take-off this time in widely separated areas, suddenly transforms the whole basis of civilization. Then finally the rise of the modern shows its hand as the next descendant in this suddenly obvious series. But the spottiness of the pattern is not at first amenable to any simple explanation, in part because we have no prior grounds of explanation at all.
The worlds of Archaic Greece, the Hebrew Prophets, the Upanishadic era of India, and the centuries before Confucius in China suddenly emerge simultaneously. From this we can infer the presence of a larger system doing cross-sections, one on a scale greater than its manifestations as individual civilizations. It is hard to imagine how this could be until suddenly we notice the coordination of this system over millennia. It defies all odds of being random, and finds its oddities from the inherent nature of large-scale culture evolving on the surface of a planet.
We are confronted with a strange pattern, obviously incomplete, and no doubt sourcing in the Neolithic or before, whose real symptoms are clearest at the sources of our traditions. Thus, if we consider this classical era in detail, it becomes evident that it represents a phase in a greater sequence. The birth of civilization, and the rise of the modern world, for three centuries after the Reformation, show the same absolute high-speed emergentist structure in phase, and are clearly related in an overall dynamic of such transitional phases. These three periods, and only these, show this ‘order of magnitude’ explosion, although the genesis of Islam comes close. This does not include the period after 1800, or license any ideological conclusion some might derive from our purely theoretical argument. Beside this parallelism, then, the long sequence of civilization begins to reveal as a whole this overall hyper-cultural generative structure. Thus we can see, in addition, the inner coherence of all of these periods as a unified system whose realizations we call ‘civilizations’.
In summary, world history since the invention of writing suddenly stands in contradiction to all basic assumptions about random evolution. This pattern can be seen from two aspects:
1. The first is of the so-called Axial Age, the enigmatic synchronous emergence of cultural innovations and advances across Eurasia in the period of the Classical Greeks and early Romans, the Prophets of Israel, the era of the Upanishads and Buddhism in India, and Confucius in China. This data shows us that an ‘evolutionary something’ stands behind the emergence of complex forms of culture, is global in scale, and operates over an interval of several centuries to redirect the course of civilization.
2. The second, related to the first, is of a drumbeat sequence of punctuations or transitions proceeding down a mainline of the diversity of civilizations. Looking at the Axial phenomenon we are forced to consider that it is part of a larger pattern, and is a step in a sequence. Moving backwards and forwards we suddenly discover the full pattern. These punctuation points are, remarkably, equally spaced, with an interval of about 2400 years, evidence of a cyclical phenomenon. We thus have three turning points or transitions several centuries in length which we can call ‘turning points or transitions 1, 2, 3’, or TP1, TP2, TP3.
Transition 1 The birth of the state, appearance of writing, onset of Dynastic Egypt, and Sumer, first higher civilizations,…
Transition 2 The Axial Age, from China to Greece/Rome. Onset of two or more world religions in India and Israel, multiple sources of philosophy, birth of science, Greek democracy,…
Transition 3 Rise of modernity, onset of Reformation, secularism, English, French, American Revolutions, Enlightenment, another scientific revolution, another birth of democracy, Industrial Revolution,…
Suddenly, we have a clear holistic interpretation of world history in the form of a non-random pattern behind us in the chronicle of known history. It is non-random in the way it demonstrates an intermittent clustering of creative action over long periods beyond the scope of individual will. It is a pattern that explicitly defies the logic of chance, as it generates a sense of coherence. We can even see ‘system return’ processes, like feedback, attempting to restore direction or elements that have died out.
That’s it. With nothing more than a short outline of world history we have stumbled into the detection of a non-random pattern, one that is the essence of simplicity, and yet at the same time showing evidence of a very deep and profound kind of complex system operating as a unity over thousands of years. We need a generalized kind of systems analysis to deal with this and can proceed to create a new kind of model that will help us to see what is going on. But the point is clear that as our data for world history crosses a five thousand year mark the larger dynamic behind it suddenly stands out. The main task is to follow this pattern with an outline of world history.
The rest of this chapter will deal some ideas for an ‘eonic model’, and the connection between history and evolution. In addition we will try to bring together an evolutionary framework and a Kantian theme of the philosophy of history. But it is possible to simply proceed to our outline of world history in Chapter Four, leaving the rest of this chapter as reference.
3.1.1 An Evolution Formalism and the Eonic Model
This phenomenon which we have called the eonic effect gives us an entirely new insight on the question of evolution. It presents us with a complete evolutionary sequence in all its complexity and refuses us a theory unless we can explain all its aspects. Further, as we begin to discover, the dynamic itself is hidden from view behind its manifestations. All we can do is to track ‘evolution’ (or, in this case, what we will call the ‘eonic evolution’ of civilization) over the range for which we have data. The result is illuminating and will transform our understanding. Compared to the complexity of this pattern the claims for natural selection as a driver of evolution seems naïve and delusive. We can see that world history is operating on an entirely different principle.
The eonic effect shows a clear pattern of developmental sequencing, and we can also call it the eonic sequence, as evidence of the ratchet or ‘eonic’ evolution of civilization. The justification of the term ‘evolution’, qualified by the term ‘eonic’, is direct: first, any form of development attracts the term (some writers, to be sure, distinguish development and evolution, perhaps influenced by Darwinism), and, second, the uninterrupted sequence from the earliest dawn of man to the rise of civilization is all of a piece, and we cannot ascribe random evolution to the emergence of man if we find a process of non-random evolution at its latest stage. We have already derived the connection by asking our paradoxical question, when did evolution stop, and history begin? We can see that there must be a Transition between the two, and that this, very logically, would break down into a series of transitions alternating with regular history. Such thinking would seem very strange did we not see exactly that in the record. The term ‘eonic’ can be taken to mean ‘discrete’, or ‘stepping’, as opposed to ‘continuous’, in long-term units of time. ‘Eonic evolution’ might also be called ‘ratchet evolution’. This dynamic is non-genetic and acts directly on the self-consciousness of individuals.i
We can explore a simple model of the eonic effect, which we can summarize here. But we must remain empirical, and our model is merely a set of descriptive terms that can help us to understand what we are seeing. We construct a basic evolution formalism, something quite absent in Darwinism, because it looks at evolution on only one level. As we examine the eonic effect, we can see that it only makes sense if we consider its action on two levels. This kind of thinking was clearly touched on by the idea of ‘punctuated equilibrium’, but the idea became confused with Darwinian thinking. Consider the implications of this fascinating terminology: we see one level of a continuous stream of life evolving by one process and another level that intermittently punctuates this. The first is microevolution and the second macroevolution. Normally we cannot distinguish the two because we don’t have the right data. But with the eonic effect that data is unmistakable and gives us an experience of what ‘evolution’ really is, beyond the purely genetic, or natural selection.
The Evolution Formalism: An Eonic Model Our model is not a theory of evolution, but a simple outline or empirical periodization of world history based on the pattern of transitions and the ‘medieval’ periods in between evolution seen in an empirical sequence. That’s it. But the correlation of the data to this simple scheme is very strong, and we know we are onto something, but what? Our distinction of System Action and Free Action comes to the rescue: our evolution formalism suggests that the sequence of transitions can be seen as ‘macro’ evolution while the human free action that emerges in its wake is ‘history’, or the record of free activity. This approach is unavoidable: we can see that the ‘eonic sequence’ changes its action at different stages, making generalizations perilous. ‘Evolution’ is itself evolving, as it were.
We need to bring in our idea of System Action and Free Action to connect the processes or levels: thus, we see the transition from evolution to history, in the form of a series of transitions, and these transitions show the driving ‘force’ of evolution (system action) and at the same time are realized as emerging history given as the expression by free action of system action. Thus history, as free action, is emerging from evolution, as system action. We will connect this idea to the thinking of Kant by looking at the relationship of system action and free action in terms of causality and freedom, and to how our data resolves this seeming contradiction, allowing us in principle to look at a science of history as the ‘evolution of freedom’. It is not necessary to worry too much about this model: it is enough to follow the basic outline of world history given by the eonic effect itself. That simple world history will start in the next chapter. Here is a short list of ideas connected to our data:
The Eonic Effect Against expectation, world history shows a non-random pattern: we see a macrohistorical ‘evolution’ or ‘rolling out’, in the ‘macro’ variety, associated with the emergence of civilization in a long frequency or directionality, suggesting long-range feedback or system return, morphing in direct and focalized fast transitions the large-scale event-space of cultural entities.
Self-organization One of the persistent themes of critics of Darwinism has been to posit self-organization as a process standing beyond the dynamics of natural selection. This is often connected to thermodynamical issues of the emergence of order. The eonic effect is a spectacular instance of self-organization, speaking descriptively. But it is far beyond the realm of thermodynamics, its action visible in the total spectrum of culture. And yet the effect is clearly an ‘increase in order’. The dynamics of this, however, shows a strong element of directionality, and this teleological component is something larger than the self-organizing process of molecules.
The Mystery Force—found! We have indicated that some hidden intangible factor lies behind the apparent stream of historical or evolutionary sequences. In world history we can detect such a ‘force’ factor. The language of ‘forces’ will have to graduate to something different. We are simply using the term to refer to some principle of sufficient reason. But the point is clear: we find a massively complex evolutionary driver behind our eonic sequencing. In fact, we see clear signs of a field effect with this ‘force’.
Evolution? What is the meaning of evolution and how can we use the term for an historical process? In fact, nothing in our account requires the term at all, but as we examine the scale and significance of the eonic effect we realize that our emerging perspective on historical dynamics must collide with other attempts to define it (for human emergence), especially the Darwinian. We will construct a simple model to recalibrate the usage of the term ‘evolution’ (carefully qualified) so that it can coexist with the idea of history. We do this by defining ‘(eonic) evolution’ as macroevolution, and history as microevolution, the chronicle of historical action. The questions of freedom and causality must be carefully defined, resulting in a formal ‘evolution of freedom’ concept as a framework, or model for the eonic effect. In the final analysis no one has a monopoly on the use of the term ‘evolution’, and our usage is correct because that’s the way we define it, in distinction to the also clearly present genetic evolution, which we will clearly see is insufficient to account for the facts.
Universal Histories Our evolutionary model will connect with the classic themes of ‘universal history’, and we will explore the paradoxes that arise in any attempt at a science of history in the thinking of the philosopher Kant, with his ‘idea for a universal history’. In fact, we will discover two, or multiple, universal histories, one corresponding to the macro-action visible in the eonic sequence, and the others consisting of the diversity of ‘cultural histories’ that make up the spectrum of world civilizations. We will also call this the ‘stream and sequence’ effect, the streams of culture intersecting with the eonic sequence.
Punctuated Equilibrium This eonic data is virtually the defining instance of what should be called ‘punctuated equilibrium’. But we will use this beautiful terminology only in passing, due to the confusion with Darwinian usage. We can see that we have, however, found the real thing, and it has nothing to do with natural selection theories. This form of ‘evolution in history’ requires carefully detailed description, and is not genetic evolution.
An Evolution Formalism We are done: we have demonstrated a non-random pattern in world history. The rest of the book will simply expand on this bare perception of the eonic effect. In the process we can slightly extend our basic demonstration by creating a simple formalism to mirror this data. Looking at the modern ‘punctuation’ we see a kind of transition, three centuries in length, closed by a divide effect. We can think in terms of a simple model of three-century transitions in a matrix of periodization. To this situation we can apply our evolution formalism, of macro and micro, in what we will call an ‘evolution’ of freedom, connecting our data to an insight of Kant. Using this framework we can deduce a number of hidden properties of the eonic pattern. The result is an empirical map of the ‘eonic, or ratchet, evolution’ of civilization. We will soon discover/suspect we are seeing on one half of sequence stretching backward into the Neolithic. We will connect this framework to an ‘idea for a universal history’ that can examine the nature of freedom in relation to a dynamical causality.
System Action, Free Action The key to this framework is to distinguish system action and the free activity that makes it up, a situation we have discussed already. Thus our model, reflecting a process of macroevolution, will distinguish the macro-action of our eonic system and the free activity or micro-action inside it.
The Old Testament Riddle A good example of this distinction lies in the Old Testament, an account of a people living through the Axial interval. Their detection of this struck them as theistic intervention in history. In terms of the eonic model, this expression is the micro-action. The macro-action is the dynamic of the Axial, or eonic, period behind this, clearly detected in the discontinuity of the core Old Testament history (the three centuries leading up to the Exile). All at once we have a magnificent new perspective on the Old Testament as an account, remarkably, of ‘eonic evolution’!
The Modern Transition!? To say that the rise of modernity is connected to a dynamic sequence solves at once one of the riddles of world history, but creates a theoretical difficulty, if we apply a question of historical dynamics to our present. We have already noted the way the so-called Oedipus Paradox haunts Darwinism, generating Social Darwinism (the misapplication of a theory of evolution to the observer’s present). Our new type of ‘eonic model’ will show us an ingenious way around this difficulty, and our emerging distinction of macro-action and micro-action will allow us to bring ‘evolution’ into our present in a proper manner. More specifically we must define the ‘modern transition’ and clearly distinguish this dynamic of generation from modernity itself, with its ideological content. This new perspective on modernity as combined macro-action and micro-action will help us unlock the mysterious riddle of the ‘modern’.
Hopscotch and a Frontier Effect One reason we adopt the idea of transitions is that our eonic sequence transcends the question of ‘evolving civilizations’, and produces transformations of several civilizations in tandem in time-slices of action. Thus the ‘civilization’ ceases to be the useful unit of analysis. In fact, as we go along we will see that our system can do lateral hopscotch or synchronous steps (as in the Axial Age), and jump to new regions. We will later see a ‘frontier effect’, the way our eonic sequence always jumps to restart in a new location at the frontier of its prior advancing front.
Finally, we need to consider the contradictions (we already have in fact) of freedom and causality: our model is set up to look at the way in which this contradiction is bridged and a discussion is possible on two points of view: causality and free will. In practice this takes the form of an intermediate state we will call ‘self-consciousness’ which is a variable state that can express degrees of freedom. This might seem confusing, and can be set into the background. But in general, we have in reserve a way to resolve the issue of a ‘science of history’, by looking at the way in which causality and freedom are reconciled in historical evolution.
Self-consciousness In the eonic effect we see an evolutionary process that is non-genetic and that acts directly on the self-consciousness of individuals. It might be better to say that it ‘emerges through’ the self-consciousness of individuals. This distinction of self-consciousness and consciousness is unusual, and yet has many classic antecedents, and will help us to distinguish degrees of consciousness, or creativity. Self-consciousness, for our purposes, is simply consciousness in a state of transformation. This situation, we should note, creates the dilemma that downfield observers, immersed in one and the same system, may be unable to match the self-consciousness detected in the phases of macroaction.
Eonic Observers For this reason we will introduce the idea of an eonic observer of the eonic effect, and we must study the observers as much as the effect itself. The redactors of the Old Testament were eonic observers, influenced by the emergent factors they wished to describe. A modern eonic observer is influenced by the modem transition. These observers may not be able to rise to the self-consciousness of those innovators inside the sequence.
This pattern gives itself away in the Axial phase, like the tip of an iceberg, but is at first so elusive that we barely see it, but we sense it, and it suddenly comes alive as we clock its strange timing, and adopt systematic periodization. It is made difficult by the need to examine relative changes, i.e. incremental change in a stream of prior continuity. And we must acquire the knack to distinguish the action of a system and the free activity that is mixed with it, like the difference between the motion of an ocean liner and the relative free action of the passengers in that context.
Two categories of motion are superimposed. This is what blinds us to historical dynamics. This pattern explains at a glance many of the contradictions we live with and that characterize our sense of history. The implication is of a process that can act globally, generate rapid change in whole cultures in short bursts, and proceed across millennia in coordinated fashion. Careful accounting of time periods shows this global system at work.
The key to its understanding is to see that its effect is short-acting, or intermittent in series of punctuated transitions. This intermittency is seen in many categories. A remarkable instance, itself a clue, is the Greek Archaic period, and as one example of the on-off enigma, that of emergentist ‘democracy’, leapfrogging history, as if in a jumpstart process. This seems to hint at a deeper process. World history seems to be operating on two levels. This is the effect of an evolutionary driver alternating in peaks of intensity. We call this the ‘eonic’ or intermittent, frequency look-alike effect, and it is still an incomplete perception, yet one whose significance is obvious even in fragments, in the same way that a few pieces of a puzzle can cohere without any knowledge of the whole. The problem is that it doesn’t follow standard causal logic in its action. What we see is the ‘causality’ of Big History, so to speak. We see a strange intersection of cultural stream and a larger sequence. This shows us the need to look, not at whole cultural histories, but time-slices, or relative transformations of culture. The idea is so strange we would not consider it unless the facts demanded it. But once we realize this is how real evolution would have to be and that nature acts that way, the solution to the puzzle is swift.
We have already always noticed isolated aspects of this eonic effect, often disguised as myth, or the generic periodizations we routinely apply to history without noticing they are clues to a larger pattern. We do not see the eonic effect, and yet we are always unconsciously ‘noting’ its presence. This must be so if we are immersed in the very evolution we are discovering. We had to have sensed it all along. The moment we use the term ‘modern’, the ‘middle ages’, the ‘birth of our traditions, or the ‘age of revelation’, we are speaking disguised eonic language, i.e. the language of periodization, of intervals or epochs. Now for the first time we see the pattern as a whole, and the reason for our perceptions is clear.
Man’s history has always confronted him with an anomaly in the peculiar periodization of its dramatic incidents, in the sense that its sequence shows an unmistakable character of relative, rather than absolute, beginnings. If we watch the beginning of the second act of a play, arriving late at the last part of the first, the appearance of transition and relative onset conditions our perspective, as a given of incomplete information. This is not unlike our perception of world history filtered through the great traditions, but before the discovery of early Sumer and Egypt. The Old Testament is really describing such a relative beginning, in medias res. It is describing intermittency, a new era coming into existence, against the backdrop of Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations, which simply enter the tale as givens with unspecified origins. The Old Testament makes a point of dramatizing the relationship and disentanglement from these apparently sourceless worlds that were simply there as a new era comes into existence. Our traditions have this character of relative onset and seem to source in the middle of world history, with a hazy preamble, in the centuries clustered around the great era of the Classical Greeks, itself synchronous with the period at the core of the Old Testament.
We are thus left with the sense that this era of great beginnings is an entr’acte, and that we are in a tale of changing scenes. And this is a clue to modernity, this ‘new age’ effect at work, once again. And this phenomenon in antiquity is not confined to the West, for we see it in the Oriental civilizations as well, as they seem to echo the same rhythm. Chinese history is variously the legacy of the Shang emperors, or the richer world suddenly coming to life around the era of Confucius. The world of the Buddha and Mahavir visibly both start, and yet continue from, and against, their own antiquity. Here in splendid simplicity is a clue to the whole question of historical evolution. We see the action of a system in evolutionary parallelism operating in a discrete series of relative beginnings. Such a system smacks of a frequency interpretation, and shows a hypercomplex system at work, complete with its own built-in evolutionary clock.
This sudden double discovery of structure, moving backwards to the dawn of civilization, and moving in parallel through the intricacies of the great burst of advance stretching across Eurasia in the proximate period of the Archaic Greeks, and Hebrew prophets, presents us with a moment like that in the solution of a puzzle laid out at random when an entire sector is resolved in isolation from a still greater whole. This is not the total solution to the puzzle. Coherence is clearly inferable from one fragment of a puzzle as the pieces show an overall meaning. The great clue bestowed in the silence of millennia debriefs our myths of revelation with its clear demonstration of their meaning in a macro-historical functionality. But our tactics of study must be forensic, and not metaphysical.
Although the eonic pattern is a short sequence (like three beats from a whole symphony) and fails any inductive test for universal generalization or an adequate theory, it gives us a telling glimpse of a purely abstract ‘evolution in action’ and suggests indirectly how emergent sequencing and integration might have occurred in the descent of man. We live in the first generations of human history with records of any kind stretching across the five thousand year minimum we will find necessary to establish the minimum three beats of historical rhythm in a 2400 year intermittent sequence. After this interval since the invention of writing we seem finally able to document an evolutionary sequence.
And suddenly we are suspicious of current evolutionary accounts of the descent of man, and the so-called Great Explosion in the Paleolithic. This pattern shows the one thing Darwinists must dread most, overlay evolution in high-speed differential transformations, in concentrated regions, acting over a short range, mere centuries. Our ignorance of deep time will allow no such simple generalization as the Darwinian theory if we have even the slightest suspicion, here the strongest evidence, of such fast-acting processes. The stock of Darwinism plummets at once, and should be put on hold until we can zoom in on the incidents claimed in absentia as evidence of the theory.
3.2 History and Evolution: A Paradox
We have discovered a pattern of universal history, and almost without trying, as a sequence of three transitions or ‘axial’ intervals. In the process we have seen a discrepancy with what the standard views of evolution are telling us. Darwinism posits random evolution, but here we see a dramatically non-random process emerge. We see a coherent sequence of developmental transitions, among them the so-called Axial Age. It is hard to avoid the use of the term ‘evolution’ for this. Something on this scale confronts us with a paradox and must collide with our accounts of evolution, human evolution at least. What is the relationship between our history and evolution? We are left to wonder if it is not world history itself that will show us the clue to evolution. Ordinary accounts of evolution, by distracting attention to times unseen, have confused us completely, ignoring times seen, history itself. The crucial issue here is the Darwinian claim of random evolution. A careful look at world history shows us a non-random pattern of the most direct kind. What are we to conclude?
Discovery of this pattern has only recently become possible, as the record of history has filled out, showing us the source of civilization for the first time. Standard accounts of evolution along the lines of Darwinism have insisted that such patterns don’t exist, they don’t want to find such a non-random pattern, anywhere. But clearly they do exist, and the data for seeing such a pattern has reached critical mass only in our own times, and can be highlighted by simple inspection using careful periodization. Darwinists claim that evolution is random, and that this applies to history also. The facts of world history suggest otherwise. We discover, since the invention of writing, a rich patterning, a definite derandomized structure. So Darwinized thinking is wrong about history. That’s that. This data is a warning that the whole project of Darwinian theory fails with history. More, the meaning of ‘evolution’ is wrongly taken by Darwinists, as purely genetic. We can see that a much broader definition is necessary.
Darwinism is said to claim that evolution is non-progressive and without purpose. This is one of the most defended assertions of Darwinists. Our data throws such assertions under a cloud, notwithstanding the dangers here of ideology. Darwin made life easy for the critic. Granting that the idea of progress has many dimensions, we can nonetheless detect ‘evolutionary progress, or progression’ like clockwork in world history. Darwin’s theory of natural selection makes a very extreme and ambitious claim, a kind of universal generalization about evolution and about ‘reality’, as seen in its assumption that no purposive evolution can be found anywhere. That makes it an easy target. We don’t even have to produce a substitute theory. We can simply show that there exists at least one non-random non-genetic evolutionary sequence showing directionality related to purpose somewhere in the universe, in this case in visible history, and Darwin’s stock plummets.
Evolutionary theory is beset with the difficulty that large-scale directionality, perhaps as evidence of teleology, is hard to observe. It is easy to pretend it doesn’t exist. Even in history the question is not intuitive. Scientists are adamant on this point, because any such evidence shows that current scientific thought is incomplete, somewhere. And yet we must suspect that teleology is a factor. The pattern of the eonic effect can be of great help as the only real evidence, however tenuous, that humanity has at close range of such ‘evolution in action’ in this sense. We will however restrict ourselves to empirically demonstrable directionality.
It seems paradoxical at first to bring evolutionary thinking into history, and yet this recalibration of our thinking, and terminology, can help in resolving the concealed contradiction latent in current Darwinian forms of theory. The point can be easily grasped by asking at what point evolution stopped, for history to begin? That this could not happen at a single instant, that the question generates a paradox, is almost a deduction in the abstract, after the fact, of the eonic effect itself. The human chronicle is one of free activity. And there is no easy separation of this chronicle from that of ancient man, the emerging species homo sapiens of the Paleolithic. This chronicle of free activity is one of the evolution of freedom, in some very general sense, as we observe in the large the transition from hominid passivity to the relatively active self-consciousness, if not free will, in the becoming of man as man. We then ask, What causes this emergence of freedom? The eonic effect shows us that, in the last phase of this transition, there is a distinct macroevolutionary process at work. Hard to detect, yet clearly visible if we have sufficient data, and use careful periodization.
Falsifying Darwinism Once we see that history and evolution are braided together and that the descent of man is ‘all of a piece’, we can use the data of history to assess the earlier stages of human evolution. Armed with the eonic effect we see at once that something is missing in standard accounts. In the process we can see that natural selection is not what is driving historical macroevolution.
Our conclusion then is that if the human chronicle is one, and if a macroevolutionary process, non-random evolution, exists in one part of this partially observed sequence, then our prior assumptions about the earlier unobserved intervals of deep time are as good as falsified. We see the discrepancy in the Darwinian speculative assumptions, and as well the fact that the contrary evidence was always already there in the intimations of the so-called Great Explosion. Thus we can proceed by legitimate reasoning to use the record of history to falsify the Darwinian claims about the descent of man.
Thus, history and evolution are like two overlapping processes, the one the chronicle of man’s emergent free activity, the other the greater process of an evolutionary driver behind this emergence. The two stand in a reciprocal relationship, one clearly visible, still, in history itself. Indeed, we must ask if man’s evolution is, in fact, complete. His evolution and his emergent freedom are braided together, and the question remains as to the ‘end of evolution’ and the completion of man’s epic self-evolution. The speciation of man as homo sapiens is thus still underway, preempting easy definitions of its significance and meaning.
We must ask what we mean by a science of history. There is no such science, and yet we will find a way to proceed by looking at the ‘evolution of freedom’, as a formal category. We should wonder why the standard criticisms of a science of history are not applied to a theory of human evolution. Why are historical theories metaphysics and Darwinism hard science? The first have a wealth of data, the second very little. Where then is the division? Darwinists would like to claim there is none, and apply Darwin’s theory to history. But we can easily show that to be the wrong approach. Natural selection applied to history creates a disastrous misunderstanding. Any such theory of evolution that leads up to human history needs a close look, since there is likely to be a contradiction lurking there. We soon discover the classic limit of conventional scientific method in the philosophy of history, and embrace a broader ‘idea for a universal history’, to invoke a classic essay of the philosopher Kant, using the idea of a qualitative systems model adapted to the antinomy of causality and freedom.
Freedom evolves? The evolution of freedom One of the striking features of Darwinian thinking lies in the rote application of selectionist and adaptational thinking to all circumstances and situations, the series of ‘Just So Stories’ that purport, without direct observation, to explain complex features of organisms seen in nature. With human evolution this becomes an increasingly strained activity, amounting to little more than the fiat of methodological naturalism. A good example is the inevitable conclusion, as in Dennett’s Freedom Evolves, that free will evolves by natural selection, as an adaptation! Not a shred of evidence is offered for this incoherent deduction from speculative selectionism. As we close in on the eonic effect we can actually produce a counter-example, the so-called discrete freedom sequence, showing a macroevolutionary component to the emergence of freedom, in the process defining human evolution in terms of the idea of freedom taken together with causality as a chord of two opposites.
3.2.1 Huxley’s Contradiction and Evolution #1 and #2
We have stumbled on the subtle problem with Darwinian thinking, and the possible answer: something is producing large-scale historical change, and this isn’t natural selection. Further, one of the most unfortunate consequences of Darwinism lies in its unwitting generation of Social Darwinism. Often blamed on Spencer, this ideological confusion of Darwin’s theory lies squarely in the theory itself, with its emphasis on natural selection. Here the effects of Darwin’s theory here were ideological, and misleading, if not disastrous. It is not adequate to point out that Darwin was himself at pains to distance himself from the misinterpretation of his own theory, in the confusion with the views of such thinkers as Herbert Spencer who is blamed for everything. Like software with a glitch, the consequences were immediate. Here ‘theory’ confronts its own effect of the theory itself on history, after it enters this history. For the first unconscious suggestion, in this case, is that unlimited social competition in the immediate present will improve genetic structure in the far future, a gross misunderstanding of a theory taken to be true at all times.ii
Huxley’s Evolution # 2 It is T. H. Huxley himself who spotted the flaw in the theory of natural selection in his work, Evolution and Ethics, and in the process unwittingly exposed a paradox in the theory he had so long defended. His perception was that there must be something else beside the ‘law of evolution’, survival of the fittest, at work, for man was condemned to oppose its effects in practice, on ethical grounds. Whence, if we accept this dualism, comes this evolution # 2? Here the data of the eonic effect shows us at once two levels of evolutionary action. The eonic effect shows us evolution #2.iii
This ‘survival of the fittest’ aspect is, in any case, demonstrably false of man’s social experience, as the mechanism of cultural evolution. Thus extreme competition is met by the response of social law in the evolution of civilization, if not economy. And the place of Adam Smith here is entirely complex and misleading, this philosopher being a de facto source of a new ethics, even as his work is polarized between an economic and moral dimension. Survival of the fittest business firm is simply another process, as is the tonic of Olympiad sports competition. The issue of evolutionary causality in the study of the evolution of civilization has been so confused by assumptions of material causative motive, as in the imputation of economic determinism, that the real evolution of social cooperation seems to have been forgotten. In general, theories of evolution must themselves interact with the near future of all free action, in a confusion of external observer, and temporal participant, ‘acting out theory’. Amoebas had never read Darwin, but after the publication of his book cultural evolution underwent clear changes. We see the danger of factoring the fact-value distinction out of the statement of evolutionary ‘laws’. The record of civilization shows something very different and reveals clear evidence of centuries of ‘idle time’, dark Assyrian centuries, between interrupts as the ‘winners’ of social competition gain control.
The rise of technological civilization has created a new confusion, theories applied to human action. But we can see their limitations, especially in the realm of ethics. And none of them explain the emergence of an ethical agent. In the final analysis, theories of evolution must invoke, not this or that principle of ethical behavior, but the full potential of all of them.
3.2.2 Deconstructing Flat History
We have rediscovered something postmodernists dislike, the so-called metanarrative. The so-called ‘incredulity toward metanarratives’ should be replaced with an ‘incredulity toward infranarratives’. The critique is based on a rejection of teleology and ideology combined. But there is no avoiding the issue of macrohistory, it exists whatever our views, as we can now see. We can easily accept a critique of grandiose histories, and yet we can’t avoid the fact that random evolution fails, as far as world history is concerned. It is remarkable that the eonic effect as data answers to a critique of teleology, and reconciles its contradictions with an ingenious resolution: our eonic sequence is directional, and reflects, but does not correspond to its own ‘teleology’, if any. Teleological thinking is a dangerous subject: it refers to a future we have not yet reached! But we can, looking backward, see that ancient history shows, unexpectedly, a form of directionality. The intersection with our own free options about the future makes the conventional idea of teleology false. It was not our purpose to propose teleological thinking. Directionality, however, is clear as we look backward.
Note that a postmodern critique could just as well be about ‘deconstructing flat history’, and the ideology associated with the idea of random evolution, usually a conflict theory of some kind. To say that history has no direction, and that the future is determined by economic and/or evolutionary survival of the fittest, or some variant, is the typical theoretical outcome of seeing only flat history.
We need to be wary of teleology, and a way to distinguish ‘teleologies’ as historical productions of men, and ‘real’ teleology, which is beyond history, as a property of an inferred system in which we are immersed. Directionality, at least, is visible as we move to connect the rise of the modern to a greater system. That is empirical and makes no statement about the future. Note that teleological philosophies are attacked by postmodernists, and rightly so, because they tend to be constructs emerging inside history. And they are unsuitable as ‘meta’ descriptions because they degenerate into ideology. Note how the emergence of teleological history in the Old Testament split into rival versions, claiming the future.
Thus postmodern thought quite understandably tries to deconstruct macrohistory and its metanarratives. The problem is that the direction set by a transition is not the same as the direction set by the overall pattern of turning points. Our ‘metanarrative’ is fairly simple, in any case: a three act play, three scene changes, with the middle mostly dumb show and noise. No ending is given, and the ‘plot’ is quite hard to describe. The Axial spectrum sets five massive ‘directionalities’, and the world religions set two opposing demeanors, historical and anti-historical, as with Buddhism and Augustinian and/or Islamic teleology. The Christian tries to take over the directionality set by the Roman Empire. With extraordinary and unexpected redirection, the small strain of the Ionian Enlightenment is reselected in modern times. The same dilemma arises all over again.
The direction set by the rise of the modern is multivalent, history-bound and has no claim on the far future that we know of. Although, and this is significant, the game starts all over again, with the various new ‘teleologies’ of the future of modernism, Hegel’s being one, and the Marxist response to Hegel being another. It is not safe to predict anything in this pattern. And in any case, a new point arises as we begin to assess all of this in a new present of world history, as ‘eonic determination’ switches into ‘free action’. Perhaps for good. It is hard to see how this sequence could continue once we become aware of it. We might be at the end of the ‘eonic sequence’. At any rate, be humble about teleological questions. The great religions are not humble here, and are adventurism pure and simple, schemes of global ecumenization turned into empires of domination with teleological scripts.
Thus the very significant critique of metanarratives works both ways. The implied teleology in Darwinist non-teleology, random flat history, is even worse than an explicit metanarrative. It says, with tacit innuendo, that the future belongs to the forces of conflict, and that after great violence the fittest will claim the future. Ethics is superfluous, vestigial religiosity. That is dangerous, and it is not so, as proven by the facts looking toward the past. The Israelites appeared in our second turning point, survived the fittest of them all, the Assyrians, and outlasted them, with no ability to fight back. Many other cases could be found.
We can easily bypass the problems of metanarratives if we restrict ourselves to statements about the past, and do not extend our model into the future, in the sense of causal prediction. In the process, our model then generates a strange sort of ‘macro-dramatic’ history, if not ‘metanarrative’, but the narrative stops in the present, where we act by our own choices, not according to some pattern. The question is simple. We see the modern is part of a pattern of three such turning points, and that this series sets a direction with respect to the past (directionality), but not necessarily the far future (teleology).
3.2.3 Conflict Theories: Incredulity toward ‘Infranarratives’
The companion to flat history is a conflict theory claiming to explain it. A little thought might suggest why: if all you see is a flat history of conflict then it seems logical to deduce that it is conflict that carries the day, and hence the future. But, actually, a closer looks shows that this thinking is false.
In any case, once we deconstruct flat history, a strange new situation arises: the standard type of historical explanation, often a conflict theory, goes bankrupt, and a sense of the meaning of history takes form. It is obvious from the eonic effect, despite its enigma, that innovations spring from something else than conflict! A good example of a conflict theory is Darwinian evolution. Most of all the competition for the local future via conflict ceases to hold sway. Our eonic system shows something unexpected: it seems to leapfrog g into a future course correction. Modern social thought, in the dread legacy of reductionism, is littered with conflict theories, Darwin’s the most obvious, the results of staring at ‘flat history’ and asking how the big changes could ever occur. Somehow randomness has to hire ‘conflict’ as the generative scheme. Then a wistful glance at Adam Smith occurs, and ‘hard-headed realists’ are finished with ‘ethical nonsense’ as pseudo-theory gets down to the serious business of Progress through Selfish Mayhem.
Incredulity toward ‘Infranarratives’ Despite the cogency of postmodern critiques, incredulity toward metanarraatives, it is the ‘infranarrative’ that is really at fault in the legitimation ideologies under examination. The ‘flat history’ desert drives the agent in his thirst for conflict, and some theory to justify that. Economic competition, natural selection, Hegelian dialectic and ‘negation’, class struggle, even Kant’s ‘asocial sociability’ emerge as the leading contenders.
The place of conflict in history is historically given. Its generalization to a ‘conflict theory’ is something else. Until you can deconstruct flat history, conflict tends to haunt you in your search for a mechanism of history, the key to your Big Theory. All you see is conflict, therefore conflict must, somehow, be the key. It doesn’t follow. Marx almost escaped from the trap, was just at the point of exposing the whole game, but we should note that Hegel, a student of Smith, mixed ‘cunning of reason’ with ‘dialectic’, a conflict theory (!), and Marx, although rightly suspicious of the Adam Smith effect taken as ideology, drifted into the Hegelian trap (negation of the negation as grounds for revolutionary conflict, hence class struggle), and was followed by Engels who bit on the Darwin hook, despite Marx’s sniffing suspicions. Marx saw at once the connection to economic ideology, but somehow the later Marxism became more Darwinian than the Darwinists, with violent conflict and even class struggle mixed up with evolutionary innuendoes. It’s a sorry history, and even the great Kant nearly falls into the trap. But he was just on the verge and suspected rightly something different. We will take up his suggestion in the next section, and try to rescue his viewpoint from this trap.
This is not some idealistic rejection of the place of conflict in history. A good case can be made that martial conflict becomes so vexatious for rival parties that the very process of conflict leads to initiatives of peace. The place of conflict in history requires its own analysis, as does the history of warfare. Our objection is the generalization of this as a principle to explain everything else, as a theory of evolution.
Conflict theory, then, with a dash of Malthus, is suddenly hallucinated as the only candidate relevant to real science. The reason is that it is close at hand, like the teeming fields of competing life visible to the biologist, who cannot reckon the ‘hurricane argument’ over long time periods, for the elusive signs of directional evolution. Thus the conflict visible in the small rises to flush out motives of all other sorts. One would have thought someone would consider that a selfish motive is as (philosophically) ‘idealist’ as an altruistic one. Adam Smith seems to stand alone, however, as an honest commentator about economies, where competition is indeed a clear factor that requires careful treatment. But economic competition is not the driver of cultural advance, and Smith never said it was. Will the real Adam Smith stand up? The source of all these conflict theories was talking about something else. Note, in any case, that economic competition is conducted under a system of laws, supposedly, and immediately gets into trouble in a global field where those laws are not always specified, the beginning and end of the woes of ‘imperialism’, as global competition. So the evolution of laws can never be omitted from considerations of evolutionary economy.
Armed with a snapshot of the eonic effect, we can see at a glance that there is something completely wrong with selectionist theories, these being a special case of conflict theories. It is suddenly easy to see the problem: the Assyrians are a good case of the fittest. After two millennia of competition, these were the top dogs, so to speak. Then in the Axial interval new bypass sequences appear from nowhere and outstrip this deadlock. In general, the biggest empire is the fittest survivor. Now look at the eonic sequence that we have already outlined in our short history of the world, starting with the early Sumerians, who resemble the Greeks with their thriving small-scale city-states. Note what it shows: three turning points, and two mideonic eras in between them. Note closely, zooming in, that the mideonic periods show the fate of competitive ‘free action’, and the way this induces decline, with a strong trend toward empire consolidation. Even religion falls into the trend.
Note then how the system is dependent on its transitions to upgrade its act, ‘evolve’, often in a safe frontier area, and that this generates the pattern of non-random evolution. Thus it is important to challenge the dominant view here for we can see that it will slowly but surely degrade the tone of modernism and provoke the dilemma of mideonic drift.
3.3 An Unexpected Challenge to Darwinism
The eonic effect is something we can see all at once, and at many levels. Like a fractal, we zoom in on separate areas, and then zoom out to see the whole. We will construct an outline of world history to help us visualize this pattern. If we highlight the data with some simple periodization what we are seeing will stand out. But in one way we are done—a non-random pattern is indicated. We are confronted with a classic question about the meaning of evolution. Clearly it is something more than genetic.
We can pause here, anticipate our conclusions, and consider in a nutshell this still fuzzy perception of the eonic effect, before zooming in on its details. It goes immediately into an evolutionary category, ‘evolution of some kind’, and ‘macroevolution’ to boot. And this just doesn’t square with Darwinian thinking, nor can we say that Darwinian evolution led up to this ‘other evolution’, for reasons we will explore. We cannot be making Darwinian claims on the descent of man, sight unseen, given such data for visible world history. Darwin’s theory of natural selection fails a photo finish test. The horse that starts the race has to match the horse that finishes. The reason is the sheer scale of the effect. And the way it violates, or ignores, purely genetic evolution. There isn’t some ‘god gene’ generating ‘religion’, but a stupendous macro factor that, among other things, generates whole religions in its wake. We tend to get stuck on the reductionist oversimplification of Darwinian evolution because we can’t imagine any other way for ‘evolution’ to occur. Yet our pattern gives us grounds for what at first might seem one of the least plausible: incremental advances in block regions in a sort of stepping stone process. Our thinking has been too conservative. Armed with some real evidence, we must change our sights completely.
Thus, if we look closely at this data, especially in the core Axial period, we see that this ‘evolution of some kind’ is global in its action, acting selectively on different regions. Its effects are local, and yet match a pattern in a global sequence. It seems to switch on and off and induce change on schedule over distributed regions. It can change its focus and hopscotch between regions, and leapfrog across centuries. It can act simultaneously on all variables in a total culture, and remorph whole regions by seeding clusters of innovations. It acts on parallel cultures, and parallel components of culture, simultaneously, and directly on creative consciousness and is involved in the generation and transformation of religions. But we cannot really say this process ‘acts’, for it is clearly mechanical in one way. It does nothing, yet suddenly everything is done. Its effects as circumstantial evidence show its hand. Rapid advances and flowerings of philosophy, religion and science are correlated with its action.
Objectivity is difficult. The observer is sequentially dependent on its action since his protocols of discourse, and scientific methodologies, show clear interaction with the pattern. This non-random pattern shows a dynamic acting at long range, signs of evolutionary progress, and ethical action built into this dynamic, as an abstract ‘should’ (i.e. the system ‘should’ induce change on cue, the minimum ‘should’ of a feedback device), and an embedded rationality, as it were, that is beyond easy description. And yet, paradoxically, we cannot safely violate any principle of historical homogeneity, nor claim that these periods in question are inherently any different from any other period, and everything we see there ought to be something, more or less, than is present to us in our time. That seems to make the question incomprehensible. But the paradox is resolved if we think in terms of creativity, or more generally, what we have called self-consciousness. Then it is clear that while creative action is potential at all times, the eonic effect shows it to have clustered evolutionary patterns. That’s a very remarkable fact, but it doesn’t violate the principle of homogeneity. Here traditional accounts are misleading, for the factor of self-consciousness often hides behind theistic visionary experience.
In the best-documented case of the Greeks in their Archaic and Classical periods we see the rapid remorphing of an entire culture in a brief time-slice, with the seeding of a complex literature, political experiments resulting in the birth of democracy, and a crescendo of art. This process operates in the large, yet manifests itself in the creative action of widely separated individuals. It transcends the specifics of individual cultures and civilizations, and we must carefully distinguish the action of a system from the action of individuals. Finally, we can see that the Old Testament arises in this context, and contains implicit observations of the eonic effect.
We spot a mysterious system at work and it operates in parallel and (intermittent) sequence, therefore directionality and thence teleology become relevant. We cannot assess teleological issues if we are immersed still in the system in question. But we can, looking backwards, assess changes of direction. This effect is clearly staging a kind of globalization. The three clusters or turning points in a sequence also show geographical patterning that follows a basic rule we will discover. They are like transitions driving this evolution, with massive innovations at the key times and places.
These ‘fast interrupt’ phases are about three centuries in length, the so-called Axial Age being two things, a generative and first flowering period. The pattern is associated with several new religions, and the emergence of democracy is directly correlated in two steps of the sequence, dying out after its first appearance. This will provide a clue to a hidden theme of freedom and necessity. This sequence generates great art en passant. The period of the emergence of the Old Testament as a literature, almost parallel to that of the Iliad, is directly correlated to the middle phase. It operates beyond the individual civilization and performs a kind of phasing intersection on a given ‘civilization’. Civilizations in the right time and place tend to have a temporary edge. But the full effect is clearly global and doesn’t pertain absolutely to the area of transmission. Including the modern phase creates problems with ideology, making caution necessary. We are inside this system still, but after its last manifestation. We tend to be blinded to the full scope of what we see, and what we conclude can easily lead to wrong results based on the imbalance created. This system does not follow some ‘economic evolution of history’. It is much deeper. Economic history is one isolated aspect of the picture.
Overall it is clearly strategic, seems to start at a Eurasian center of gravity in the Middle East, and generates globalization, each area of transition seeding a field of diffusion. It never acts twice in the same area, reappearing each time in an adjacent prepared region. This ‘evolution’ is therefore able to somehow scan whole regions, or respond to parameters concealed to us, remember its tracks, and leapfrog to new starting zones. It never determines a whole, and leaves its trace in human activity, which executes all action as theme and variations. It acts through creative incidents and individuals. Its action is entirely different from ‘natural selection’ or survival of the fittest. Instead, if anything, we see a ‘natural’ selection of the less dominant and almost helpless innovators in fast development regions followed by a trend toward equalization and integration. It shows direct correlation to intensity of creative advance. Note this is not the evolution of creativity. Men at all periods are potentially creative. But the periods in our pattern show an especially strong relative intensity.
The only name for what we are seeing is ‘evolution’ in the dictionary sense, a process of ‘rolling out’ in a developmental fashion. Nothing in it contradicts the facts of variation, genetic drift, or genetic mutation, save that these ought reasonably to be taken as a side issue. We will not speculate as to whether processes that can morph whole cultures could also treat genes as information switches. But this is an immediate reality check on Darwin’s theory. Many of the processes claimed for genetic evolution are strongly correlated with a detectable dynamic suddenly appearing from the time of writing. This is non-random evolution because we see ‘system return’ on definite ‘event regions’, an extraordinary fact. We are left with several possibilities: this ‘evolution’ is an entirely new process, it was present all along, or else switches on at critical stages of development. It is clearly ‘macroevolutionary’ in some sense, and transcends or overlays genetic evolution.
More intuitively, instead of random evolution we see three waves of focalized advance in selected regions that feed the whole via diffusion, an obvious way to evolve something, plain vanilla evolution, but this Darwinian selectionism is not. Darwin’s theory, in fact, was always a non-standard ‘exotic’ theory, a free lunch claim. The whole evolves through the part, and shows clear directionality, and correlated system response over millennia. The problem is that while we can describe it that way, we can’t ‘see’ the mechanism, so to speak, nor account for the sudden jump in complexity that attends each step in our eonic series as new and complex ‘information’ flows into the system from nowhere. Whatever we call it, and the issue of what to call it is secondary (we can also dispense with or qualify the term ‘evolution’, e.g. ‘eonic or stepping evolution’), we have some hard data here, observed at close range, relative to Paleolithic, which Darwinists have not observed at this close range.
Clearly, applying Darwinian thinking in this situation could lead to disastrous counter-evolutionary effects. Look closely at the middle periods, such as the falloff in the post-Axial. The ‘fittest’ do indeed survive better, and the trend toward decline and empire takes hold. A period of great innovation comes to an end. And many of those innovations do not make it. The Ionian Enlightenment is buried, democracy barely gets off the launch pad, emergent science fades away. We suspect our ‘system’ has to prompt these innovations, and then restore them after they fail a ‘fitness test’. We must take the result as is, historically given and buffered from whatever other evolution in deep time our speculative theories propose with limited evidence. Since this ‘evolution’ in history shows clear directional aspects, and is able to change direction, we might suppose it has changed direction from processes said to have occurred earlier in the descent of man. We can see that the Darwinist is going to lose history, hence also the Paleolithic descent of man. For we will see that ‘history’ in this sense must overlap with earlier phases of the descent of man.
The regime of natural selection as theory makes no sense, never did make any sense. Now we suspect what the real evolution must have been like. Culture, we should note looking at the eonic effect, doesn’t arrive through and can degenerate under the pure regime of natural selection, whether of individuals, cultures, empires. Advance and innovation require an end run driver to bypass the sandbanked victors of the survival regime. But there is still the consideration that Darwinists might claim that their account produced the lead up to history via natural selection. We can move to protect our subject by showing that they probably lose this lead up also, by looking at the so-called Great Explosion. From there we can move to the study of history on its own terms, without the red herring of Darwinism lurking in the background to confuse thinking.
Darwinism, by claiming purely random evolution, always left the relation of causality and chance ambiguous. Confronted with the eonic effect, we see precisely that extra process, ‘cause’, or ‘force’, subject to its inexorable confusions, present to ‘drive’ evolution, it being granted that such language is purely formal, subject to revised language, and that this system is something highly complex. As remarkable as that is, it is nonetheless precisely what we might have expected, and warns us that our easy assumptions about higher complexity arising by chance were off the mark.
1. Evolutionary Directionality We are thrust all at once by the intermittent character of this pattern into the perception of historical directionality, hence possibly teleology of some kind, contrary to the usual assumptions. Although a scientific red light should go on at this point, there is nothing to forbid this. The facts must speak for themselves. The reason for this renewed perception is that successive turning points show a developmental sequence, often picking up where they left off millennia before. Current evolutionary thinking rejects all teleological thinking, and we will proceed gingerly here, and for our own reasons limit our argument to directionality with an extended hypothesis about teleology, but we can see indirect evidence of teleology in the intermittent stepping process. The problem is that directionality can be empirically demonstrated for the past, while teleology comes with a very high price tag and claims on the future. A drunkard can take three steps toward Kilarney, and that’s proof of directionality, but he could fall in a ditch on the fourth step, and never make it, a future unknown. It should be clear from inspection that world history shows ‘purposive’ directionality but the stepping progressions seen in the eonic effect show the way retrograde motion throws us off the scent, to say nothing of the metaphysical propagandas of the great religions whose effect is to distort perception.
Nothing in this approach therefore preempts a counter-claim of causal explanation of a new and different kind, some ‘causality’ of Big History. Another problem is that we can only speak of the ‘aggregate cultural evidence’ of very large turning points, making teleological statements very generalized at best. And the system requires special treatment in the observer’s present. Further, if some ‘teleology’ of organismic development is considered, then one might consider the ‘evolution of freedom’ in any sense. Then the direction set by the system is ambiguous. If ‘freedom’ develops, the system should stop acting, short of a ‘telos’. It cannot determine the future then. So which is it? Given many such considerations, teleology is tabled to discussion by directional empiricism, but not allowed in the basic model.
Total history is wildly chaotic, and the selection and amplification of substreams against the whole is obviously needed to prevent long-term inertia. Suddenly we discover it, for example in the rapid fall off of the Hellenistic after the Greek miracle. What happened? A whole advance seems to fade out. The difference between directionality and teleology can also be seen from the sheer variety of the Axial cousins. No single ‘telos’ could be ascribed to this system, although we might conceive of a more abstract common denominator. But we can barely describe what we are seeing. Stating some teleological end state collides with our present. However, directionality, changes of direction, can be described.
Our prime objective is to demonstrate a non-random pattern. But we are entering dangerous terrain beyond that basic objective where the issue of teleology appears to challenge standard thinking at its foundations. We need a way to preempt ideological misuse of the conclusion. Ideology arises because it is a highly desirable state of affairs to say your current activities are endorsed by a teleological plan.
The pattern itself provides the answer. Its intermittent character proceeds by incremental action, often changing direction. What occurs inside the pattern, and in the in-between periods could be two different things. Again, to repeat, we will in fact only claim empirical ‘directionality’, a more limited claim. There is essentially no way to either settle on a causal science of history or a teleological interpretation that is not riddled with metaphysical assumptions. That is not true of empirically mapped directionality. Please note that we are dealing with high-level cultural (and biological) historical evolution. The problem therefore is that teleological ideology is itself a product of the sequence in question. And these severally might contradict each other. That complicates analysis. No one can claim history with an ideology of ‘telos’. We must proceed by another avenue, and with some caution. We will limit ourselves to historical description of directional intermittency visible looking backwards, with a special treatment of the present (since it is outside the intermittent phase).
We should note, in any case, the evidence of the Axial Age, the exploration of different directionalities, simultaneously, like subroutines in a master sequence. That, and the scale of the pattern, should induce severe caution against premature teleological speculations. This issue is especially acute in the last phase of our sequence, where questions of Eurocentrism, and much else, complicate the analysis. In fact, we can proceed with a safe strategy on such questions. But the subroutine problem returns to haunt the directionality (apparently) set by the modern differential phase.
Note: Natural teleology We need to be clear that teleology can be an aspect of nature (a point once again made clear, we should note, in the Critiques of Kant). The current polarization of reductionist versus some ‘spiritual’ brand of explanation misses this significant insight. Science has naively yielded the ground of its potentially better domain of discourse, and that’s not surprising. But it should also be considered that gains in understanding are marginal here, giving the opportunity for the religionist to claim all ground not rendered over to scientific explanation. This is a problem in monotheistic cultures, and doesn’t finally concern us. We should also note that there is a teleological aspect to physical mechanics, with its action principles. It is simply not the case that teleology has been banished from modern science.iv
2. Evolution and Ethics—At close range We already have enough data to reconsider the basic weakness of Darwin’s theory with its inability to account for the evolution of ethical behavior. The current models of population genetics with their claims about group and kin selection are forced into a corner at the limits of purely genetic explanation and the attempts to account for altruism. But if we look at the Axial Age data we can see that evolution in our emerging sense shows two religions appearing almost out of nowhere, one theistic, one atheistic, almost—we see relative transforms in each case. This process is far beyond anything Darwinists can conceive, and we end up flabbergasted by the sheer scale of this spectacle in our backyard. This does not mean we have solved the question of the ‘evolution of morality’, that has long since been, in some fashion, a human reality. The religious manifestations of human culture emerge, proliferate and decay, and in the Axial interval we see a remarkable spectrum of situations ‘toning up’ a chaotic religious diversity. The evolution of religion and that of behavioral morality are not exactly the same, and yet the two must overlap. And in any case our still incomplete picture already gives us a reality check: the issue has a macroevolutionary component. But the point is that religion is not an adaptation to environmental conditions, but an independent process mixed with general evolution in the large. We are confused by the output of the system, i.e. a particular religion associated with our pattern (as opposed to religion in general), and the system itself, which does something ‘wholesale’.
We should be careful here: our eonic data shows a very late stage of development and does not exhibit the earliest stages of ‘ethical consciousness in evolution’. We see the icing on the cake, not the earliest stage. But we can see that something far larger than random genetic evolution is at work.
In one way the category ‘religion’ is (possibly) redundant, since it is really a function of the development of consciousness (often with an overlap with the category of ‘state evolution’, i.e. law codes for transcultural regions). We see that ancient men perceived what we call ‘evolution’ as a religious phenomenon. But then, in that case, the master clue is at hand to sorting out our elemental confusions. We are confused by our inability to distinguish the process as it emerges historically as a human creation (micro-action) in an eonic context (macro-action) and the deeper dynamic of the process itself which stands beyond the particulars of the individual religions, here Buddhism and the proto-Judaic corpus. Even a cursory glance at the full spectrum seen in the Axial period provokes a conundrum. For we find more than just religion. And if we zoom in on the Indian case we see a whole field of religious experimentation preceding the later outcome. Part of the problem here is that, despite the advances of science, we are still very close to this period, and tend to be caught up in the misleading historical accounts. We have no concepts to handle this kind of sudden phasing, nor any ability to put our theoretical present in correct perspective. Thus we fail to grasp what we are seeing at the gestation of these two religions in the Axial period. But we must suspect just how far off the mark Darwin’s style of thinking really is. We can see from the Axial period the phenomenon of ‘distributed evolution’, sourcing in one cultural stream, then proceeding towards a more general environment, crystallizing as a ‘religion’, complete with self-generating ‘ethical codes’ confected on the spot from the input stream culture’s mythological corpus. We are in the minor leagues of theory still, confronted with operations on this scale.
3.3.1 The Great Explosion
Man’s emergence from the Paleolithic is both his entrance into history and his attempt to discover the meaning of that transition. The search for the significance of history and the resolution of its enigma is the most existential commitment of man and his most ancient of legacies, the question of Gilgamesh himself. The quest for some pattern in the surface incoherence of historical events takes form with the birth of civilization and the invention of writing, and inspires the traditions of sacred history, reborn in the secular philosophy of history, then challenged and recast by the idea of evolution.
The discovery of evolution is the gateway to its greater significance, the great clue, yet in revealing the unknown the idea of evolution is still confronted by the mystery of the known, man in history. The idea of evolution seems destined to fulfill the ancient hope in its new form by its revolutionary transformation of our perspectives of deep time. Indeed it is a precondition and foundation for any enquiry into man’s origins And yet this ambition to claim man’s view of his nature by the very invocation of universal evolution at first merely compounds the enigma and demands the answer of one and the same riddle, as universal history, that has always accompanied the chronicle of kingdoms, states, and empires.
Even as evolution yields one part of the riddle of history, it is history, ironically, that yields us a further clue to evolution, and to the unobserved drama of man’s transition from the lost world of his evolutionary infancy. As we observe the eonic effect, we begin to see, or detect, an ‘evolutionary’ process in the ‘rolling out’ of emergent civilization. This effect is too massive, and too high-level to coexist with what is currently claimed as explanation, even if we grant the possibility of confusing cultural and biological evolution. In many ways, history is a crucial test for any theory of the descent of man, the only record at close range, at the level of centuries that man has of the evolution of anything. The reason lies in a subtle contradiction in our thinking concerning the relationship of history to evolution, with particular regard to our freedom and ideas of that. The eonic effect highlights a discrepancy. Although man at the beginning of history has a clear dimension of ‘freedom’, this is limited, and the overall development of civilization shows a clear ‘helper’ evolution. Can we suppose that much earlier men succeeded without this?
Current thinking on the subject of evolution derives, of course, from Darwin’s Origin of Species with its theory of natural selection, and this has become the source of many controversies. The basic Darwinian viewpoint was always open to severe challenge on this issue of natural selection. The problem is that the mechanism of natural selection is pushed to extremes as a total explanation, unwittingly provoking a disguised metaphysics. In general, theories of evolution suffer the inherent limitation of insufficient evidence, and generalize inferentially about great eras in the past that are not the result of direct observation, our hurricane argument. This lack of evidence makes theory subject to unconscious derivation from prior assumptions about what constitutes naturalistic explanation. And these tacitly foreclose the range of mechanism discoverable.
One such assumption is that no rapid acceleration of change can occur in the intervals in the fossil record. Here the controversies over mechanism become acute, in the difficulty of resolving the great unknown, deep time, to a fine grain. What constitutes naturalistic explanation cannot be specified in advance, for we might expect to discover new extensions that were unforeseen in the basic assumptions. Let us note that the processes seen in the eonic effect are easily seen to be present at earlier stages of evolution. We are to assume natural selection is the key, but it doesn’t take much to find evidence resembling what we see in history. We can use the evidence for a ‘Great Explosion’ to provoke a stalemate with Darwinists.
The Great Explosion Evolutionary theorists have longed puzzled over the sudden advance complete by ca. 50000 (?) years ago at the point man seems to have crossed a threshold to become the recognizably human cultural being that he is in terms of language and culture. This is often pegged as high-level cultural evolution, with or without a mutation claim, visible in language, art, and technical achievement. At one and the same time this data is matched with claims for an earlier breakthrough for the ‘anatomically modern man’, e.g. ca. –150000 (?). The speculative misuse of such data understandably creates caution in (otherwise incautious) Darwinists, and clarifying the relation of slow to sudden evolution requires far more data that we have at present. But these two factors together suggest a quite tantalizing case of something like our relative transformations, which reconcile the chronic debate over slow versus sudden change. None of these claims has any data at the level of centuries, while we can see now that that is likely to be crucial. Our eonic pattern is probably double the size of its visible five thousand year range. This is a huge segment of history, but virtually nothing in the scale of deep time.
Our method shows us the dangers of speculation without data at the level of centuries for minimum five thousand year intervals. We are not going to speculate here, but since Darwin did speculate and thought natural selection (the issue of sexual selection apart) is the key, we can equally well wonder if earlier evolution resembled the eonic effect.
The eonic pattern shows the ability to focalize rapid evolutionary change in isolated geographical regions, and to stage distributed evolution from that source. Further this ‘evolution of some kind’ is primed to ‘evolve’ all the factors of culture comprehensively. This seeding process can, within several centuries, ratchet flagship populations to a new stage of culture on the spot. The nudging eras of fast change are followed up several millennia later with successor periods.
We should note the compressed timeframe for some very big advances. We can simply consider the data of the eonic effect beside this spontaneous claim for a ‘Great Explosion’, as a rival challenge seeking falsification, and can demand that Darwinists not assume therefore what they have not proven when their own data suggests something different.
Anyone who considers current literature suspects fudged timing here, quite apart from the near total absence of decent data. It is almost impossible to conclude anything from skeletal or genetic remains. In fifty thousand years since the putative Great Explosion man’s evolution by genetic drift is considerable, but in no sense fundamental. A mere doubling of this time period gets us back to the dawn of anatomically modern man. It is hard to assess these intervals, but one thing is sure, Darwinian thinking doesn’t add up. Everything in the data suggests we are missing a highly compressed period of rapid transformation, this not being contrary to slow change in the intervals in between. It is impossible to argue with Darwinian true believers. But let us at least not be browbeaten into their dogmatic thinking.
3.3.2 Measures of Evidence Density
Darwinists are operating with an improper standard of evidence density. The span of Darwin’s theory is immense, billions of years, but with immense gaps. And the evidence is mostly fossilized remains of anatomical structure, no closely tracked data for the historical background of behavior or culture. That’s fine for the fact of evolution, but inconclusive as to mechanism. The correct measure must be some doubly parametric ratio, length of overall interval and fine-grained detail at shorter intervals. Five thousand years of world history at high evidence density but short length is surely a rival player to millions of years at low evidence density, as far as the descent of man is concerned. The point is that all claims here will now need some evidence at the level of centuries to compete with our developing eonic evidence, evidence at the level of millennia turning into centuries. Of course, evolution could be accelerating, or changing its character, raising an objection to this approach, over the full range of evolution. But as the asteroid catastrophe related to the extinction of dinosaurs suggests, relatively short term events can never be counted out at any stage. Darwin’s claims don’t have a single dataset at the level of centuries to describe any part of the evolution of man. Zeroing in on ten thousand year intervals as in the Great Explosion is still not good enough. There may be high-speed changes at the level of centuries. The eonic effect shows high data density over a short interval of five thousand years and is thus fully rival to the Darwinian presumptions about long intervals, as far as the descent of man is concerned.
3.3.3 A Photo Finish Test
We can restate this as a photo finish argument, falsifying Darwinism. The problem is that ‘history’ and ‘evolution’ overlap, so our account is moving towards a photo finish contradiction. We are beginning to see something totally different from what Darwinists propose. Nor is it likely that earlier human emergence could be something completely different from this. The eonic effect shows us direct examples of the evolution of social units, religions, cultural entities, at a high level, in a non-genetic macroevolution. The core nature of man and his culture springs from the very period Darwinists assume for their account. Are we to suppose without proof this was purely genetic? The brief photo finish of human evolution since the beginning of civilization is thus beginning to suggest a surprising set of facts.
Darwinism fails a reality check, given the eonic effect, and thus flunks a photo finish test. If someone says the racehorse is one color, and the photo finish shows another, the original claim comes under suspicion. If the claim is made that cultural and biological evolution are distinct, we can construct (below) an evolution of freedom argument demanding an overlap of some unified homogenous evolution. Over and over people have suspected something is missing in Darwin’s theory. We sense immediately that we have found it, and in our own history. The search for a ‘something’ that might ‘cause evolution’ against the random suddenly becomes visible in our own history, seen in the very pattern of human activity taken over the long term. We see conclusive evidence of a global aspect to evolution.
Call for a ‘Time out’ on Darwinism Therefore the selectionist claims for Darwin on the descent of man should be withdrawn, effective immediately, and put on hold until we can branch via falsifications. Checkmate for claims of proof. Stalemate for claims of theory. No selectionist account of adaptation has properly accounted for the rapid emergence of early man. We have insufficient data to resolve this issue, but the facts of world history must make us suspicious of how this transition happened, and a bit skeptical of the claims for some important or uniquely significant mutation. Such claims, in any case, have never been properly verified, even as the theory is promoted as already achieved.v
3.4.1 A Certain Strangeness: Beyond Space And Time?
Our pattern of data has suddenly shown its resemblance to something remarkable and classic, so-called ‘transcendental idealism’, a scheme tailor-made to rescue Newtonian confusions, but considered now to be an outmoded form of thought. Almost against our will our model forces this on us, due to the two levels it generates in its analysis, and the stunning match to the discrete freedom sequence. Remarkably we have an ‘off the shelf’ philosophic software for just this situation, the critical system of Kant. In the next chapter we will tie together all the loose threads of our discussion with a look at Kant’s essay on history. We can complete our model in the next chapter by showing how the eonic effect demonstrates the resolution of Kant’s Challenge.
Our data has, at first, a strangeness to it in the way it treats discontinuity, jumps between periods and regions, and operates on fuzzy intervals. In fact, it is a consequence of the data we are confronted with, no way around it, and is not indulgence in the fantastic. Examine the data of the Axial Age, for example. Fantastic or not, the data speaks for itself. There is no ‘flat history’ solution to the strange properties we discover there. One reason we are about to discover for this initial sense of oddity is that we may be detecting a system operating behind the scenes, and perhaps one that is beyond the matrix of space and time. Although we can’t establish this formally, we should launch a preemptive strike against the suddenly metaphysical speculations that will arise here, and that will provoke some metaphysical spree on the subject of history and eternity. The latter concept has no scientific foundation, and is speculative, period. That doesn’t mean it is wrong, only metaphysical. Transcendental idealism is the only way to both embrace and yet discipline this kind of ‘ran off the meter’ once we attempt to include anti-causal thinking in our model.
However controversial that might be, and no such assumption is required to proceed (the assertion generates its own serious complications, and possible contradictions), we should persist in our new approach on the grounds, by Ockham’s razor, that it simply makes sense of the otherwise chaotic data, at a stroke, done. Without explaining anything, save why it can’t so explain. However, in the final analysis, our method and its justification are based on simple periodization and the construction of time lines. No more. If what that uncovers is strange, then so be it. We found explicitly good reasons to explore intermittent and hopscotch patterns, on the grounds that there are few post-Darwinian non-random patterns of evolution, but the eonic effect, remarkably, shows strong evidence of one of them. We allowed ourselves no statement about ghost forces or ‘forces of history’, save the detection of Mystery Force X. We simply construct a matrix of dates, and observe the sudden coherence of the result so taken. No objection can be raised against such an approach. It violates no canons of ‘right science’ and indulges only in the simplest elements and constructs. Like a tangent to curve the slight artificiality of the model can simply be taken into account as approximation. Thus the way we have set up our model is deliberate and we should proceed without apology since we can see that a dynamics of world history always eludes us if we try to impose a wrong approach. All of a sudden a recognizable situation emerges for anyone familiar with the philosophy of history. It’s like walking down the street and finding a hundred dollar bill.
We should have expected this all along from the moment we isolated an ‘evolution of freedom’ from our data. This evolutionary concept we must make our own for a scientific age, despite its innuendoes and controversies, and all it means is that we have to find empirical evidence for some ‘evolution’ at a bare minimum level of ‘self-consciousness’ of human freedom, volition, or autonomy, in any sense, short of the metaphysical, and avoiding free will questions. It applies to history, and must therefore apply to the Paleolithic.
We found this very easily in our data. The eonic sequence is itself a play on the degrees of freedom involved in discussing the evolution of civilization, and we reduced that to the simple question, and dilemma, Does Man make himself? We see the top-level answer very easily if we adopt our model. It is almost better left vague, since our more specific business is simply to map out the stages of emergent culture in world history.
Sometimes this kind of construct is challenged by postmodernists as a ‘metanarrative of freedom’. We looked at that criticism, but the fact of the matter is that the very denial of the existence of such things seems to put ideas in our head. Once you say there is no large-scale process in world history the existence of one becomes obvious. So we end up ‘deconstructing flat history’, there to find a metanarrative indeed.
As a further exploration of these issues we are going to veer briefly in the direction of the philosophy of history as a redundant approach to our data, for those who wish to pursue that angle. With this in mind this chapter will conclude with a section on Kant’s Challenge where the issues of freedom in history are given their most classic, if somewhat abstruse form. In reality, the problems of historical methodology were long ago challenged, if not resolved, by the hints given in a figure such as Kant. However, ironically, Kant injected a different solution to the problem into his thinking, and this we can critique on the way to a better Kantian interpretation than Kant himself could provide. The reason is that Kant is clearly inside our pattern, and still unable to fully observe it, although he came close. ‘Transcendental idealism’, a wretchedly named terminological label whose real meaning for us would be a ‘two domain model that can handle freedom and causality’ in some suitable fashion, is the key to many mysteries in the emergence of scientism.
We should point out that current science is itself a disguised cousin of all of this. If we look at the boundary of the speed of light, and the relationships of dynamics and measurement in Quantum Mechanics, or the light barrier in Relativity, we discover that physicists have long since entered this terrain, despite desperate denials, and recast the Kantian two domain approach for their own subject. To say that something transcends space and time sounds mystical until you realize that Einstein’s theory of relativity makes such a claim implicitly. We are not going to pursue physics speculations but we have seen enough to realize that our data is suggesting something quite extraordinary, and so far from indulging in wild speculation we have stepped backwards into something remarkably.
3.5 A New Model of History: Eonic Evolution
The historical emerges from the unknown, the primeval scenes of evolution, and the emergence of the hominid creature with a runaway brain from the Paleolithic, the ‘primordial minus infinity’ from which man arrives to commence the arts of agriculture, and the creation of civilization. This tale must be one of relative beginnings and pass on from the still clouded threshold moment when modern man passed, or by-passed, the Neanderthal in an explosion of cultural and artistic creativity. But as we look back at the lost world of man’s cultural existence in the later Paleolithic, we must wonder if the historical, then still so far in the future, was not prefigured in that passage. We have seen the wisp of evidence for a Great Explosion. Does the explosion of creativity that suddenly appears with the beginning of earliest man show any relation to what we see later? Is the historical the evolutionary? That is, how is the historical related to its greater source, the descent of Man? This is one of the most difficult questions, for it evokes at once the search for historical causality, the mechanisms of evolution, both genetic and cultural, in the context of physical laws and in the headwind of all ‘arguments by design’, teleological philosophies, and the nature of purpose in relation to both organism and its environment.
The discovery of the eonic effect as a concealed process of macroevolution operating in world history has forced us to examine the meaning of the term ‘evolution’. We adopt our own usage of the term but with an open-ended suggestion of an overlap with earlier phases of the descent of man. Perhaps the details of the account are lost forever. Yet the eonic effect warns us that high-speed changes may have occurred, and these are no longer visible. We need a model that can adapt to relative beginnings. Otherwise we may suffer the plight of Darwinism, whose source myth based on insufficient evidence is being applied to the study of history, where we do have evidence, an absurd situation.
The point is that our data suggests the way we can do without the account of absolute beginnings that vitiates theory with a false consistency. This sense of the relative beginning of history is essential because we must take man as we find him. Our argument throws severe doubt on current accounts of the descent of man, because we see that many of the cultural aspects of man ascribed to adaptation are the result of a different form of evolution altogether, one visible in history. In the final analysis, we cannot indulge in the speculations of Darwinists. We weren’t there. But what we can say is that world history is not evolving in this fashion. It is a preposterous situation where speculation about what we can’t observe is applied to what we can see, after we have put blinders on. We can do without the account of absolute beginnings because the result will be a model that is an empirical map, a theory of the evidence, not a full theory of evolution. We cannot produce the latter until we resolve the facts. An intermittent model allows a component chain of relative phases of evolution.
Further, we suspect that those who apply this theory to history have an agenda. They may wish to induce competition, survival of the fittest, with an excuse for this. Witness the subtitle of Darwin’s Origin. This was the age, for example, of the extermination of the American Indian. If you wish someone’s land, a theory like Darwin’s is a useful excuse to flout morality. Thus we must examine the motives of theory, for theories are emergent processes in real evolutionary time. Their status as ‘objective’ is open to question. A close look at the eonic effect can be used as a test of ‘competition’, historically. This might be too harsh, Darwinists merely confused, but this is what they themselves have declared. It is convenient to have ‘scientific’ grounds to relieve conscience, justify conflict. We can however extend our view of history to see that meaningful development follows a different course. The onset of civilization after the Neolithic, taken as one relative beginning, shows its own dynamic. And this is not a struggle for dominance of ‘favored races’. We don’t have to inject the red herring of some speculative theory about unobserved eras into this history. World history is moving toward an integrated community of man, not some divisive struggle between winners and losers in the game of survival.
Wallace pointed unwittingly to the basic flaw in Darwinism, man has a complex potential, difficult to realize, how could this be the result of adaptation? Man is confronted with the demand to understand himself, his latent potential, and consciousness. In simplest terms, we need the evolution of an agent, not of an ethical robot with altruistic genes. It is hard to see how adaptation could account for the man behind the man. Without this there is no definition even of what organism it is that has evolved at all. Whatever the case, Darwinism offers us no such account. Committed to absolute beginnings, a full and total account, it must plug the gaps with a universal generalization, a claim on a law of evolution. Natural selection is perfect for that. It is devastating to consider that Darwinism has missed the main issue altogether. It seems an insoluble puzzle. Where did Darwin go wrong?
A first problem is the nature of the observer himself. Since the time-scale of evolution surpasses the lifespan of a human observer, the question arises as to what is meant by the concept ‘observing evolution’. Historians can never deceive themselves that guesswork can be applied to gaps in history. The facts, and all the facts are needed. We have produced our hurricane argument, and must remember that the temporal and spatial scope of evolutionary process is tremendous, and that we never see and cannot easily visualize evolution, and are prone to misconceptions. If we apply the term ‘evolution’ to world history we see at once the difficulty of correct observation with respect to five thousand years of civilization, let alone theoretical generalization. And even there we detect an evolutionary macro process entangled at the highest level of culture. Thus warns us that you must close in on the facts at close range, and that is still beyond our ability. We must have eyes to see.
A strange question lurks in Darwinian theory: is there a difference between evolution and history, and if so on what date did the transition occur? Clearly there would not be a ‘date’ for this, but some sort of incremental transition. We can make the distinction formal by allowing history to emerge from evolution. The eonic effect foots the bill here. This means that history is really appearing in the Paleolithic, a not unreasonable usage, which we will take informally as a significant comment on our standard usage, noting also that history is sometimes also defined as starting with the invention of writing, the first period of the eonic effect (!). We can also speak of the ‘eonic evolution of civilization’, to qualify our use of the term ‘evolution’.
From Evolution to History We can make the evidence of the type seen in the eonic effect explicit grounds for defining both the unity of and a distinction between evolution and history. We could call history the record of free activity rising in the wake of the passive evolution of volition. At what point has relative free action emerged for man to create culture as a free agent? This definition includes the possibility that this has not yet occurred.
The ‘Eonic Evolution’ of Civilization We can call the evidence of our three turning points the ‘eonic’ or intermittent evolution of civilization, as some form of ‘macroevolution’ turning into history. Then we can keep rough track of the two levels of history we detect in the eonic effect. This will create a puzzle of two distinct forms of action, one inside the eonic pattern, one outside. We will say that system action shows ‘eonic determination’, or macro-action, while behavior outside of it is simply ‘free action’, or ‘micro-action’.
The Great Transition Armed with these distinctions we can call the passage from evolution to history The Great Transition, with a possible echo (or not) of The Great Explosion. However, we are immersed in this transition, and may or may not have reached the end of its clearly intermittent action, seen as a series of individual transitions.
This connection is a variant of our photo finish argument, and it has a significant twist, which is that many fail to find any science of history, while the science of evolution is taken as a given. We should be suspicious that our eonic data is precisely the type of sequence, complete with intermittent transitions, required to fill the discontinuity between history and evolution.
Laws of History and Popper on Historicism Even as we respond to the challenge of Darwinism, we must confront the legacy of historical theory, as we embark on a path often labeled ‘historicism’. This thinking was prefigured by the Kantian analysis, but it is useful to see how this consideration was reborn in the wake of Kant’s philosophy of history. The perception of the eonic effect, in the evidence of what we have called the eonic evolution of civilization, seen in the strange hints of periodic motion in its emergence, must by its nature propose to reopen the issues, well-known to students of historiography, of macrohistorical structure and sequence, ‘laws of history’, in the debate that has attended the rise of modern historical research, beginning in the early nineteenth century.
This research has tended to skirt these very issues as intractably difficult, or undecidable, in the first priority of accurate historical fact-finding. Indeed, a healthy skepticism is generally brought by the specialist narrative historian to the legacy of Universal History as it emerges in the movement, for example, of German Idealism, and to attempts to find laws, forces, or regularities of the kind studied in the more fundamental branches of science. In the latter category must be placed the Darwinian theory of evolution, and in the middle, the Marxist theory of historical materialism, this a significant inversion of an idealist program. To these can be added the eclectic world of the macroeconomic model, seldom explicitly offered as a model of historical evolution, but very much so taken in practice in the various ‘economic interpretations of history’.
Related to this, one of the most interesting challenges to the attempt to find historical ‘laws’ is the work of Isaiah Berlin in his Historical Inevitability. The basic difficulty raised by this and other critiques is the factor of spontaneous human action, whether or not we ascribe to this as an element of will, in the difficulties of all theories of will. Thus, Karl Popper’s well-known critique of historicism is one perspective that cuts to the root of the problem of both historical and evolutionary theories:
I mean by ‘historicism’ an approach to the social sciences which assumes that historical prediction is their principal aim, and which assumes that this aim is attainable by discovering the ‘rhythms’ or the ‘patterns’, the ‘laws’ or the ‘trends’ that underlie the evolution of history.
This term has a complex and confusing history but we will take Popper’s version to start. This important critique (directed at Marxist predictive ‘laws’) does not apply to our eonic effect, for the simple reason that our evidence is empirical, and gives us the answer, without telling us what the question was. We see pattern, rhythm, but these are not laws, and we make no predictions from the observation. But this was our problem, not nature’s. We can retreat from causal explanation to pure periodization, and correlated causal association.vi
It would seem that the case against laws of history, laws of evolution strangely exempted, is so overwhelming that we should abandon their consideration. But the ironic result of seeing the eonic effect is precisely this, to find strong, conclusive, evidence of historical regularity that courts rather than preempts the issues of freedom. Our three turning points suddenly start to make sense, for they show us nothing but free activity, and yet this is demonstrably different in the crucial eonic intervals, witness the Axial Age. More, we see the idea of freedom born in this very context of historical determination, e.g. emergent democracy shows historical conditioning. This provokes the classic contradiction in the question, what causes freedom? We will explore in the next section the simple solution we see in action, which is to find some middle ground between ‘freedom and necessity’ in the factor of self-consciousness.
Thus, we can adapt our thinking to the eonic effect, by taking the contrast of consciousness and self-consciousness as surrogates for determinism and free will. And then freedom can be an evolutionary idea carried as a virtual potential realized at points of ‘relative freedom’ or self-consciousness. Indeed, note the paradox that arises here, which is that ‘freedom’ in history, and ‘the generation of freedom’ cease to be the same thing. We must realize our own potential, and activate that. Note that the emergence of philosophical ideas of freedom itself shows correlation to our non-random pattern.
A Freedom Paradox Consider as scratchpad heuristic thinking the contradiction (there are any number of variants), speaking very loosely: either man is free to self-evolve or else he is not so free and is ‘evolved’ by a larger process toward that freedom, at which point there should be a transition to a post-evolutionary era where ‘evolution’ is switched off and freedom takes effect. Note the dilemma. If he is too ‘evolved’ by that larger process, that self-evolution can never begin or exercise itself, yet if that ‘self-evolution’ is total he might never advance, remaining at the level of his starting point, and never reach freedom (which we didn’t define, the definition might itself be evolving). One resolution of the paradox might be to consider that some form of ‘evolution of one kind’ must initiate an evolutionary sequence toward freedom as un-interfered with ‘sort of freedom’, and yet operate intermittently in a series of on again off again bursts of ‘evolving’ between which self-evolution can occur. It is like the extra wheels on a child’s bike. The temporary constraint on ‘freedom to ride’ is necessary as a stage toward riding solo. We have just found a way to derive the eonic effect with its distinct alternation of degrees of freedom. Thus an evolution of freedom might well break down into a series of alternating intervals of degrees of freedom, induced or not induced. Such situations occur all the time in real life, e.g. the ‘third wheel’ on a child’s bike.
Popper and Historicism We must consider the rejection of the entire domain of macrohistory in Popper, who amplifies Fisher’s Lament, in his attack on ‘historicist’ beliefs in The Poverty of Historicism, where he criticizes grand clichés of historic Destiny and the ‘dramatic’ view of history, the idea that history has a plot or significant structure. Unfortunately, the term ‘historicism’ has changed its meaning here. Not only Kant’s Idea, but Herder’s other Idea, arises in a genuine dialectic at the eonic synchronous moment of German philosophy. The different historicism of Herder, the complex world of nineteenth century German cultural philosophy, the phantom Book never written, The Critique of Historical Reason of Dilthey, as the emphasis on the unique, and Popper’s critique of his definition of historicism, as the historical generalization of physical law, show the complex legacy of this perspective, as the term seems to shift into its opposite. The eonic effect beautifully synchronizes the contrary meanings of the term ‘historicism’, for we can see therein a way in which the ‘lawful’ and ‘determinate’ can be taken in a sense that does not contradict the unique, the particular, or the potential individuality of the historical agent.vii
Causality, Freedom and Self-consciousness We noted the critique of theories of history using Popper’s idea of historicism. But we have found empirically that there is such a thing as macro-history, and our data shows us how to reconcile the contradiction of freedom and causality. The resolution of the paradox of historicism is empirically given by the eonic data, and lies before us in something like the electronic ‘on-off’ switch, to match our intermittent or ‘eonic’ data. That’s crude thinking, but sufficient for large-scale periodization analysis. We have a mixed situation, free agent, and (causal) mechanism. Choice and mechanism operate in tandem. We see our mysterious drumbeat switches on over a brief time scale of centuries relative to millennia in non-contingent evolutionary event-regions. Instead of an on-off switch we see something like ‘switched on’ periods with relative degrees of freedom in the appearance of less conditioned periods able to innovate rapidly. How to proceed with such a strange set of facts? But there is a simple explanation here: change can occur in the agent’s self-consciousness, in the middle ground between determinism and freedom. Look at the eonic effect. Higher degrees of freedom show both deterministic and free influence overlaid. We call that ‘creative action’, in most cases. Note that creativity creates a sense of freedom, but isn’t controlled by its agent. Thus, confusing the question is the fact that ‘free agency’ and ‘freedom’ are not the same necessarily. ‘Choice’ is an observational given, however we explain it. We need not decide about free will to recount the history of ‘choices’, branches of potential outcomes becoming realized. We have the clue to proceed.
Further, as we will see as this logic unfolds, the ‘causal agency’ is trying to ‘cause freedom’. The eonic effect is itself like an ‘evolution of freedom’. This crosses the tripwire into a classic ‘contradiction’ as our subject transforms into something else, that something being somewhere in the vicinity of the philosophy of history. We will see that the eonic effect straddles the twin domains of the deterministic and the emergence of man as a ‘free agent’ with potential freedom. The problem of historicism disappears if we renounce causal laws and predictions of the future, and look only toward patterns of creative action, in the past, taking care to define the transition from this past to the open present. We don’t need a proof of man’s free will, or some scheme of historical laws, and will complete our eonic model without deciding these issues. But we do need a model that shows some kind of ‘determination’ in our pattern, and yet switches off in the present, for the evolution of freedom must have a free future. Such seemingly bizarre properties are in fact everyday occurrences, and will form the basis of a model. That’s very strange, and only an example will help, make it transparent. The eonic effect is such an example.
The issue of self-consciousness can be grounded in nothing more complex than the power of attention, contrasted with states of consciousness that are more mechanized. We don’t need to commit on any psychological theory to consider it this way, although collating creativity and self-consciousness is an oversimplification. No theory of evolution has ever properly accounted for the emergence of the power of attention (which clearly antedates man’s emergence). But we must assume, as an example of our issue of relative beginnings, the man we find, a creature with a complex power of attention, which he can control to some extent. The point is that there is nothing mystical in the issue of self-consciousness.
The Evolution Of Freedom Our distinction of System Action and Free Action conceals an idea of the ‘evolution of freedom’, and we need to explore this new perspective on systems and individuals in tandem. This is an empirical approach, passing through the thicket of ideas of freedom. Our objective, here, is to throw the idea of freedom into deep time, asking for close tracking, then produce closely tracked data in historical time, in the fashion of our photo finish strategy.
One way to see the problem with Darwinism is to consider the ‘evolution of freedom’, as the empirical study of the evolution of volition, free activity, consciousness and more general ideas of (possibly political) freedom. We have seen the Kantian perspective on ‘free will’, and make no claims here, one way or the other. But the ‘freedom grab bag’ as a seminal archetype is more general than free will. We can be free to make choices, on some level of freedom. Choices leave historical traces as ‘one thing instead of another’, whatever the source of that choice. Since the existence of ‘free will’ is not claimed in these assumptions, we can even look at the evolution of the idea of freedom, an idea that can be entertained without a realizable freedom. Note this point: a new potential as self-consciousness could arise as evolution of some kind, armed with the idea of freedom, as a motive to action. This suggests we are still inside such a process, even as we use the idea of freedom, although it is difficult to define it.
We can see that the idea of freedom enters the eonic pattern as the very lack of ‘freedom’ to create civilization without a macro helper. We also see the double emergence of democracy as a significant riddle of the data. Thus, since we have some spectacular evidence of the ‘evolution of freedom’ as a macroevolutionary process in the eonic effect (to be developed as the distinction of system and free action, and the discrete freedom sequence), we can challenge Darwinists on this score. The interest of this approach is that the idea of freedom must overlap between evolution in the Paleolithic and the emergence of civilization taken as evolution.
Note the contradiction arising as we speak of freedom, its evolution presumes its relative absence. How much more true that must have been at earlier stages of his emergence, as a cultural hominid. We can draw no direct conclusions, but the clear appearance of a macro factor in history severely challenges claims of random emergence. Darwinists say this happened at random. We could just as well claim it happened in a long-range sequence of relative advances that sourced in one area and diffused thence to a greater species environment. We naturally begin to wonder if this sequence would terminate at some point, its job done. We certainly see increasing degrees of freedom in history. Look at the difficulties of history, and consider the helplessness of unorganized tribal systems.
We need more than theories about the Paleolithic, we need histories. We can use this to demand from evolutionists finer grained data, or withdraw their claims, based on an idea of evolving freedom. Darwinists are claiming that a genetic mutation or mutations arose that left man ‘free enough’ to create civilization (however any such genetics that might accompany greater evolution would be of first interest). But we can show that this assumption is false. Note that our basic pattern shows us already the macro factor in the ‘evolution of freedom’, in a sense to be made clear.
We could also think in terms of ‘volition’, perhaps, instead of ‘freedom’ as ‘free will’. How did ‘volition’ evolve, and at what point, if any, did it evolve into freedom, if any? Is there a macro factor involved in the evolution of volition and/or freedom? If so, where’s the empirical proof? This language is fuzzy, but makes approximate sense, and really asks us to define, and find evidence for, what we mean by evolution in terms of a whole man, as a self, or agent. This agent must choose between courses of action. All this amounts to is a request for more data on earlier behavioral stages, and their degree of freedom, which to our view needed some extra vitamins each step of the way. And we are required to specify the evolutionary psychology ‘claimed to have evolved’. It is simply an assumption to say that a ‘utilitarian’ account constitutes the bedrock of theory. In fact, man seems to downshift into low gear, and switches between different evolutionary psychologies. He has the problem, altogether appropriate in any account of evolution, of bringing ‘self-consciousness’ to the mechanization of consciousness.
Two questions lurk here, and we will not be dogmatic. One is the genetic issue of man’s ‘human software’ and how it evolved and how it works. Far be it from us to refuse some lucky mutation, if someone can fix its historical coordinates. But we must be sure we know what that software is, and can’t restrict its description in order to make natural selection work. The lurking nemesis of such thinking is the possibility of a macro factor associated with ‘freedom’ that operates beyond the genetic level. All at once we have unexpected data for it. Subtract the eonic effect from world history and you lose the birth of civilization, all the great religions, the Greek Miracle, etc… Flat history in long sluggish eternities of no advance.
In general, as one historian of evolution has put it, echoing Wallace, “Here at last volition has taken its place in the world of nature.”viii
Man Makes Himself The basic issue is very simple, and should be taken empirically by looking at world history with one simple (theoretical) question, Does man make himself? Thus we can restate the whole issue in intuitive form, using the title of a book by Gordon Childe, Man Makes Himself. To say that ‘man makes himself’ implies that ‘freedom to do so has already evolved’. But questioning that was one of our starting points, and we can see already from superficial inspection of our turning points that emergent civilization has a hidden driver, and that otherwise it tends to sandbank, slow to a crawl, medievalize, drift from initial states of high advance, degenerate into empire, lose its initial advances. Man enslaves man, while we will see that our discrete freedom sequence (the double emergence of democracy) comes to the rescue twice in a row, and also includes the emergent ‘abolitionism’ by correlation in its ‘eonic effects’.
Notice that science and democracy are born in ancient Greece, then die out until our next turning point. The Roman Republic goes from bad to worse as libertas becomes imperium, and then everything seems to collapse in a Dark Age. There is even a tendency to think decline a form of advance. So the issue is complicated, and we see that while man is the only candidate to self-create his own freedom, make himself, and civilization, there is a helper-driver visible by looking backwards at the globally interconnected way in which advance seems to alternate intermittently. This is a limit on the idea of freedom, and we must be wary not to ‘alienate’ ourselves in a system of determinism in the name of evolving freedom. The answer is simple. Such a system must terminate, and leave man on his own, evolution must become history. That point must come as we begin to observe it, ready or not. And our model will automatically take care of that, in the short term. It switches off in the recent past, as theory goes out the window and is replaced by free action, free or not.
Upon reflection, we realize that ‘evolution’ on the surface of a planet is not something simple, and that the eonic effect shows one of ways this can happen, one of the simplest and most plausible, however extraordinary. Darwinists just snap their fingers, things just happen. We see that a driver is needed, and a very delicate one that does not overdetermine or underdetermine what emerges. And at some point, like a jump-start process applied to car, that determination process has to yield to a completed or ‘free’ process, i.e. the cars starting, of our evolution turning into history. The gist of it is that the whole can efficiently evolve through the parts, which show intervals of ‘system action’ or eonic determination.
One way to distinguish history and evolution might lie just here, by considering the transition from passive to active organism, from behavior to free (ambient or locomotive) action, in the ambiguity of the term ‘free’. Perhaps if man is free then evolution ends and history begins, if this is our choice of definition. Or, if he is not free, his evolution continues, and the term ‘history’ is so far another term for this process.
3.5.1 A Gaian Matrix: Detecting A Global System
We are confronted by the strange fact that world history, behind its appearance of randomness, shows in fact the operation of some kind of global dynamic ‘system’, one whose properties both resemble and part ways with those of standard dynamical systems. The result seems suddenly to make sense, but can be confusing because we don’t quite see the ‘how it works’ aspect properly. This ‘system’ is of planetary, or Gaian proportions, and seems to spawn Civilization almost like a hothouse plant.
We can thus use the idea of a ‘system’, taken in a neutral sense. In the end, however, all we need is a careful periodization outline of world history: we need to visualize an empirical pattern. This pattern gives itself away by the simple mechanism it demonstrates, that of a set of transitions. We see, first, the strong resemblance to the idea of punctuated equilibrium.
A Frequency Pattern Our system seems to follow a frequency pattern based on 2400 year intervals which are marked by discrete transitions three centuries in length in an eonic sequence overlaid on a stream universal history:
TP1: Transition 1: -3300 to -3000, relative rise of civilization
TP2: Transition 2: -900 to -600, relative ‘Axial’ interval
TP3: Transition 3: 1500 to 1800, relative rise of the modern
We see these transitions or statistical regions as relative transforms packed with eonic emergents. Note that this third transition switches off in our recent past. And our current action may or may not express the aggregate directionality shown, which is highly complex in any case, comprising multiple parallel streams. Thus the teleology, if any, inferable from the continuation of TP3, may be quite different from that of the overall sequence. We have said that TP3 is a major turning point. We didn’t say that what happened in its wake was, or was not, a bungled continuation. We must define our relationship in the present to this set of observations about the past, and invent, not a postmodern, but ‘post-eonic’, ‘strategy of historical freedom’. Our eonic system is a ‘macroevolution’, but our present behavior must be a ‘microevolution’. Scrambling these two modes is the bane of Darwinism with its nasty Oedipus Paradox.
We have a core pattern, the eonic effect, and a frequency hypothesis. It is important to get a sense of the way we are dealing with relative transformations. Looking at the eonic effect, especially the Axial interval, we see what we can call ‘eonic emergents’, the data that stands out as improbable, and these often look like absolute innovations, but which, on closer examination, often turn out to be amplified relative transformations, spurts of growth, incremental remorphing.
The sunlamp analogue If we turn on a sunlamp in a garden, we see, not the absolute growth of plants from seeds (although that may occur too), but the relative accelerated growth of those plants. The causal domain is contextual and may show two levels. The sunlamp has nothing to do with the ‘causal stream’ of plant growth processes. In the same way history in and outside of the eonic effect is autonomous and proceeds by its own logic. The eonic effect is built in, yet a distinct process.
Unexpectedly we have connected the two ideas of evolution and history, and we can proceed to build this relationship into our model. We have stumbled on a truly global process operating beyond the scale of individual civilizations, and the result is a remarkable realization of an almost Gaian theme of planetary evolution. We need to clarify the way that ‘evolution’ and ‘history’ are connected. The answer to that question is very simple and elegant.
An Evolutionary Driver We can call this a drumbeat or discrete-continuous model because we see a discrete series of drumbeat punctuations or transitions overlaid on a continuous pattern of world history. That gives expression to a sense of something ‘driving evolution’. In our attempt to consider a science of history, using our model, we see how such a science becomes contradictory. We have already wistfully summoned up the idea of a ‘science of freedom’, that has to be our line of attack, at this point. Even such a simple model is quite powerful, and will uncover some hidden properties behind our data.
The data of the eonic effect has an elegant simplicity that matches this type of system model, in its stepping progressions: our punctuations become transitions, three centuries in length (a guesstimate), that switch on an off, in the alternation of a system action and then free activity, or what we have called ‘macro-action’ (instead of causality) and ‘micro-action’ (free activity, which may or may not show ‘free will’). As an example, among dozens, of a ‘discrete-continuous’ process (our original example was that of a computer and its user), a thermostat interrupts a continuous time stream with a discrete series of discontinuous actions. Note that thermostats are not supernatural devices because they exhibit ‘discontinuity’. A more subtle example, if we listen to a concert, we hear the continuous music. But if we listen carefully we will detect a discrete tempo (counting numbers are ‘discrete’), or beat. That’s nice, the absolute minimum example, where the dynamic has been replaced with esthetic productions, leaving only tempo as a mechanical process. So with our ‘eonic’ effect, our drumbeat suggests a tempo. This tempo is a clue to some hidden order, quite invisible in the sequence. This order may be unknowable, but it must show its hand if it has any relation to our world at all. Thus we detect its signature. Tempo is the only property left to analysis after everything else disappears into hypercomplexity. Standard theories won’t work because theories are output of the system.
You can bypass the abstractions of the model and simply follow the general periodization which will spring to life without these abstractions.
The model is designed to never get in the way of the data of history. But, whatever its limits, the model will help clarify the causality problem involved in any attempt at a science of history, and this approach is an order of magnitude superior to the confusions of flat history.
We can see already the dilemma of thinking in terms of ‘civilizations’, as the fundamental unit of analysis (to use a phrase of Toynbee). Our unit of analysis will be the transition itself. An immense amount of wasted effort goes into thinking about civilizations, when the basic dynamics is visible in the transitional intervals. We have one basic unit: humanity, the surface of a globe, and differential time-slices of various streams to generate a global sequence moving toward an oikoumene. The confusion caused by the tribalism of ‘civilizations’ is the tale of a still primitive species.
The Unit of Analysis We should stop thinking of civilizations as the unit of analysis, and instead look at our transitions.
The Myth of the Continents World history tends to be divided into geographical regions as ‘civilizations’ or ‘East’ and ‘West’, or the ‘rise of the West’, ‘western civilization’. Up to a point nothing is wrong with such terms, until we find that nothing is right with them. We can instead take our field as the surface of a globe divided into sectors, where ‘eonic evolution’ steps between zones of relative transformation inside the civilizations. Beyond tribal obsession, there is no such thing as ‘western civilization’. It is a function of global evolution. It is misleading to divide the field into continents. There is one global mainline.ix
Our transition shows a comprehensive character that no individual, so far, can match. We think in terms of the ‘rise of the West’, or of Western Civilization. But this, as noted, misses the point of what we see, the global interconnection of all three of our great turning points. We are starting to see, beyond the ‘civilization’, the issue of what Toynbee called the ‘unit of analysis’, and to something global, as already suggested in our idea of eonic evolution.
From Evolution to History: Deducing the eonic effect We have the key to a new way to unify the evolutionary and the historical. The issue of history and evolution is a confusing one, and it seems as if we are making a category error. In fact, not so. Quite the contrary we have the real clue to evolution. Consider the following question: when did evolution stop and history begin? This tricky question will trip up the Darwinian approach and leave it to collapse in a contradiction. The answer of course is that there couldn’t be an instantaneous switch. We can see that to set a specific date is contradictory. So we must specify a transition between evolution and history. What form would this hybrid take, passing from evolution to history? Either it is all evolution or all history?? Or maybe a series of mini-transitions with evolution dominant then history dominant. In alternation. Now look at the eonic effect: it speaks not just of evolution, but of history and evolution, the two braided together, with history emerging from evolution. And this eonic effect takes the form of a sequence of alternating periods, with evolution (in our sense) dominant during eras of transition, and co-related periods with history (in our sense) dominant. Thus we actually see in history the data matching the deduction about transitions, passing from evolution to history.
If we pursue the eonic effect and its model in detail we find a formal definition of ‘eonic evolution’ and ‘history as free action’ with the two braided together in a drumbeat alternation pattern. This is defined as an ‘evolution of freedom’ in a purely formal fashion. As ‘freedom evolves’ (in this sense) history comes into being. The enigma of the Axial Age, for example, yields at once to this kind of analysis. The question of a category error is irrelevant, really. We assume evolution is solely genetic, and that biologists have the defining standard. But they don’t. The term ‘evolution’ means ‘rolling out’, and ‘eonic evolution’ means the rolling out of civilization in the context of the eonic effect. We see that there is a ‘macroevolution’ involved with this. Note that we use the term ‘evolution’ in a host of contexts, economics, art, philosophy, any category. Do we forbid those too? Those usages are just as valid (and maybe as incoherent) as the Darwinian. Darwin never actually used the word, in his first edition.
The Formalism of Evolution: The Macro/micro distinction We have seen the striking resemblance of the data of the eonic effect to punctuated equilibrium. We will be wary of this idea, but use the formalism of evolution that we developed in the previous chapter. The point is that the alternation of some active process of evolution with equilibrium in the middle is a very general idea that could apply in a host of situations. Since the term has already been defined in a different (and false) way by Darwinists, we will not directly use it, save to note that our historical dynamic shows an obvious pattern of ‘punctuations’ followed by equilibria! In fact the eonic effect gives us the correct framework for any true theory of evolution which will show operation on two levels, macro and micro. As noted already the phenomenon of punctuated equilibrium should really be about the macro component of some evolutionary process or ‘force’, balanced by its micro component. The problem is that it is hard to detect the macroevolutionary component to general evolution, but the eonic effect gives us a spectacular example: we see that we must track data at a finer grain.
Our model is a unification of the idea of evolution and history, in which the macro component will be the so-called ‘eonic sequence’ and the micro component history itself, with human individual action coming to the fore against the backdrop of evolutionary dynamics. This ‘evolution of freedom’ will be the historical chronicle itself.
Thus our transitions represent the macro aspect of evolution (in history) and the periods in between represent the micro aspect of the historical free activity of man. The periods of transitions are themselves historical, of course, but their evolutionary component is visible in the sudden spectrum of creativity and self-consciousness that advances civilization. The sequence of transitions, or eonic sequence, is embedded in history seamlessly and produces a directional component. The conclusion of the eonic sequence is probably taking place in our own era, as the modern transition produces an endpoint of ‘eonic evolution’, human freedom rising in its wake.
An elegant, if at first strange, formulation of the idea of evolution, adapted to the idea of ‘evolution of freedom’.
3.5.2 Stream and Sequence, Transition and Oikoumene
We need a few more ideas that can help us in our descriptive portrait of historical evolution, that of stream and sequence, and of transitions and their oikoumenes. In addition we need to see that economic history is a separate history. We can introduce a new and useful metaphor for the ‘eonic effect’, the stream and sequence relationship. We can use this as another way of describing our eonic series. Another related metaphor is a relay race: a series of runners stream in parallel, but the baton passes between different runners (streams). In the same way, we see a series of streams of culture, their long histories, but a set of short intervals promote a larger ‘sequence’.
Stream and Sequence Consider the dynamics of the Greek or Israelite Axial intervals (or any other for that matter). A stream history leads up to the Axial interval and shows transformation. This transformation generates a higher level step in a greater eonic sequence. This is the ‘stream and sequence’ effect. We now have two levels to our account, the evolution of the stream of cultures, and the evolution of the high level sequence. And this allows us to give expression to ideas of evolutionary directionality and progress at the higher level. Or perhaps progression would be a better word. However, the idea of an eonic sequence allows us to proceed without committing ourselves on generalizations about progress which always end up confronted with various contradictions.
Culture Streams We can think of the historical timeline or streaming of cultures as their continuous chronicle in time, e.g. the Greek stream: the total history of Grecian culture from primordial Indo-European times to the present. The intersection of this stream with the eonic series in the Axial interval produces a distinctive burst of macro-history. We can consider any subset, superset, or other cultural variable in the same way, the science stream, the history of science, the poetry stream, the technostream (technological history), the econostream, the history of economic systems, etc,…
Economic Streams Note that economic history is distinct from the eonic sequence. Economic activity is continuous and globally omnipresent, while the sequence is intermittent. We are coming to see the problem with the ‘economic interpretation of history’: it is a dependent process. Note that the explosion of the Industrial Revolution occurs when an econostream intersects with the eonic sequence.
The Eonic Sequence Our non-random pattern is clear: we see a macrohistorical sequence associated with the emergence of civilization in a long frequency or directionality, analogous to (although not the same as) feedback, able to act on cultural streams in intervals of several centuries. We can reverse-engineer this data with a question, Does world history show evidence of any kind of sequence? The answer is yes, and we see very strong correlation with an intermittent sequence pattern that can only be called ‘evolution’. This sequence is intermittent and intersects with the various streams of culture it finds in its direct path. This sequence can show synchronous parallelism, and follows a frontier effect, as we will see, and works in a kind of leapfrog effect.
Our system generates two kinds of histories, the stream history, and the isolated ‘sequence’ intervals in those streams. Consider the idea of ‘Greek history’, a stream of historical culture. This proceeds throughout the course of world history, from the era of Indo-European differentiation to modern times. It is in some fashion ‘Greek’. But, for some reason, this stream shows a remarkable flowering in the period from -900 to -400. There is no ‘causal antecedent’ or general explanation possible from simple examination of ‘Greek culture’. We are left baffled, until we see that this stream suddenly becomes a part of a larger, eonic, sequence. As the stream and sequence intersect we see the ‘Greek Axial interval’, one of our transitions.
Transition And Oikoumene We need one more idea to describe our eonic series, as we look at the complement to our transitions, the oikoumenes they create. And this leads us naturally into the question of the ‘mideonic periods’, where the center of gravity of history lies. We will attempt below to rewrite our eonic system as an ‘evolution of freedom’. But note that in a system ‘evolving freedom’ the system must finally switch off to allow freedom to develop outside the field of system action. We can see that the initial results in the mideonic periods are mixed at best.
How Evolve Civilization(s)? The eonic sequence shows an ingenious way to ‘evolve’ civilization(s). The whole is too large, work on a series of localized regions. These in turn generate a set of oikoumenes or diffusion fields. The Axial religions begin to spawn universal trans-cultural diffusion fields, armed with literatures able to apply across cultural boundaries, although as we can see, the Old Testament is a curiously sluggish mixture of particularized culture elements pressed into service for ecumenical purposes.
Related to the idea of a ‘transition’, is the mirror image, an oikoumene. The eonic effect is not about civilizations, but the way they are generated, or regenerated. As we studied our sequence we found a definite series of properties that unlock its riddle. The first, as we have seen, is that of sequence and its transitions, and then of parallelism. Another we will come to is the frontier effect. Finally we can consider what we can call ‘sequential dependency’, which is related to diffusion, and to the way the transitions create a high level of culture that tends to create ‘sequential dependency’ in its descendants creating oikoumenes. The question of these transitions can be restated in terms of transitions and oikoumenes, and the sequential dependency of the mideonic period. It is very difficult to transcend this factor of sequential dependency since any attempt to do so might backfire and degrade the eonic sequence from its peak potential. We should hardly wish to do so. We are sequentially dependent on the eonic history of science. We should therefore wish to do science, not react against our sequential dependency to its system generated momentum. In general, each of our transitions creates, if not a new civilization, then a field of diffusion, or oikoumene.
Transition and Oikoumene We can begin to see what our system is up to. Instead of evolving civilizations, we see a series of transitions like time-slices of particular civilizations generating new oikoumenes in their wake.
Fields of Diffusion Each stage of our sequence creates a plateau from which diffusion occurs. The cultures in these fields show a kind of sequential dependency. In many ways the breakthrough to higher civilization at TP1 is unique, to the best of our knowledge, and all subsequent civilizations show a ‘sequential dependency’ due to diffusion from these sources. This does not preempt other independent cultural evolution, but this is likely to be sluggish. This pertains to large-scale civilizational constructs, viz. the onset of State formations. It does not follow that smaller scale anticipations of the future as high culture did not exist very early in other places. But we never hear of them! Our eonic sequence is really about global integration, and pumped diffusion. Our system garlands many long lost cultural innovations. A good example is Buddhism. The ‘Hindu stream’ was an unknown until it regenerates as Buddhism in the Axial interval and then starts its course of globalization.
Another property is the acorn, or frontier, effect: our sequence never steps twice in the same place, but always in an adjacent area just at the fringes of its previous expansion. Notice the way that Egypt and the Mesopotamian fields don’t enter the Axial Age list of areas of transition. A tiny corner of Canaan in between the two takes off and produces a new tradition of religious culture. The Greeks are just at the fringes of the core area of higher civilization. Another spectacular case of the frontier effect is the rise of modernity at the boundary of the Roman Empire. In each case the transitional eras generate oikoumenes, and at the next stage, just at the fringes, the sequence resumes its action. We think this a ‘European’ phenomenon, but that is misleading. We can see already that it is misleading to speak of ‘Western Civilization’.
The Frontier Effect A key property of our eonic pattern is the ‘acorn or frontier effect’. Note that something global is occurring starting in a series of local areas. But the sequence restarts in a new place each time, like an acorn, just at the frontier of its predecessor. The world of Canaan, spawning ‘Israel’, does not look like a frontier now, but in the era of the mythical Abraham it certainly was, and we even have a ‘pioneer’ story about his leaving the city of Ur in a prime diffusion source, the world of prior Sumer. Greece and Rome in the Axial period were definitely still frontier areas, relative to the by then ancient world of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Each of our transitions creates a hotspot, then expands to create a new civilization, better, oikoumene. Cultural acorns sprout in this field, and then at the next cycle one of them becomes a new transition. Note how our sequence is generating ‘evolution in the large’ via local hotspots, ‘short term evolution in the small’. We must study the diffusion fields of our turning points.
This property makes complete sense. If we restart over too far away, the sequence can’t continue. But if we are too close, the momentum of the earlier stage will overwhelm advance or make novelty abortive.
As we pursue our eonic riddle we see that its effects transcend the particulars of individual civilizations. We need to consider a new fundamental unit of analysis, beyond the idea of civilization, in a challenge to Toynbee and Spengler. We see that the key to the whole pattern is the way that our transitions create a series of oikoumenes, perhaps overlapping. Basically the perception of transitions is paired with the formations they generate: a series of cultural diffusion zones that spread out from the source. This reflects the reality better because it reflects what we always actually see, a series of cultural layers superimposed, overlapping, or mixing elements from different sources. And a civilization is a territorial entity, perhaps well-defined thus, but the development overall of the whole system proceeds by the flow of information which is not so geographically bound. This point is essential, since the Axial Age, as with the case of the account of Israel, produces its effect with a series of geographical displacements, the result being a literary document, well able to travel beyond cultural boundaries. The same is true of Buddhism, which almost seems to extract the essence of Hinduism, and create a universal transcultural vehicle.
The Unit of Analysis We notice something strange. Development is occurring over a long interval, longer than the individual civilization. Thus, we have a problem with the use of the term ‘civilization’ in the first case, the ‘birth of civilization’. The eonic effect is transparent, and follows the contours of the mainline of development in the emergence of civilization, and at the same time demonstrates the relationships of all civilizations to each other. It is therefore at a higher level than the ‘evolution of civilization’ (whatever that is). Note the singular and plural usage of the term ‘civilization’. We might be better to speak of one World Civilization. World historians, such as Toynbee, tend to think in terms of civilizations as self-contained dynamic units, while anthropologists in terms of cultures evolving in linear fashion. Toynbee posits some very dubious structure for these civilizations. The cultures of the anthropologists are temporal streams proceeding more or less as static kaleidoscopes from the Paleolithic. The only points of evolution are precisely where they cross the eonic effect. We are not really looking at the evolution of civilizations, but of the stepping stone intervals when the eonic sequence finds a civilization in its mainline.
Econostream, Technostream,…And Eonic Sequence We need to begin to distinguish between technological, economic, and ‘eonic’ evolution. We can see by direct correlation that technological evolution proceeds in many cases outside the eonic sequence, and economies are universal or omnipresent factors of culture. The rise of the modern world is confusing because it is the climax of a long development, and mixes technological and economic breakthroughs in a more abstract cultural evolution that sets the framework. That is our eonic effect, and it transcends economic and technological histories. In the modern case, the three separate components suddenly come together in a tremendous climax, but they should be seen as separate processes. The point is that macro-history in our sense doesn’t control these other sequences. It influences them where they overlap, but, by and large, they are human sources. A man can create something, innovate with a new technology, but that can happen at any time. Technological discovery can happen anywhere, anytime. And economic behavior stretches over vast areas, and occurs at all times. But the eonic sequence is carefully concentrated in its effects. In fact it seems to act by a minimum principle. Suppose you had a limited amount of energy to interact with civilizations, and you wish to act on the whole set of them. How would you do that? The eonic effect shows, amazingly, one way to do that. Pick a set of hotspots, act briefly, hope for good diffusion, and make sure the next time you interact that it is not in the same place, but not to far away to have to start over.
The Greek Axial, by comparison Separating these different components can be done by considering the comparison of the modern transition and the Greek Axial. The structure of the two transitions is roughly the same, yet in the first case we do not see the emergence of capitalism, the printing press, or the technological explosion of modern science.
The eonic sequence is different from the random activity of economies, it stands in relation to a larger pattern. Economies are large fields of economic free agents. Economic activity spreads over a large area, occurs continuously, has its own history. Its dynamic is different. All these things can overlap, interact, but essentially they are different processes. Note that ‘something like capitalism’ is almost present from the beginning of world history, since Paleolithic man starting trading in obsidian. But the intersection, overlap, of ‘econostream’ and ‘eonic sequence’ can sometimes produce a dramatic effect. The Industrial Revolution is a good example. The eonic sequence generates a new form of capitalism. But, from then on the result proceeds as econostream. This approach resolves, by the way, the severe confusions that caused Marxists to tie their heads in knots with incorrect theories. There is something broader than the evolution of economic systems.
In general, in our distinction of ‘eonic determination’ and ‘free action’, technical innovation is a function of the discoverer’s abilities, hence falls into our category, ‘free action’. It doesn’t really need that ‘extra’ from the eonic effect. In a similar way, economies spread out over large areas, indeed globally. These, therefore, also fall into the category ‘free action’. It may of course happen that econostream, technostream, and eonic sequence overlap briefly with spectacular results. A good example is the Industrial Revolution, and one reason we tend to take it as the generator of modernity, but that won’t work.
The truly foundational advances, especially the most elusive cultural ones, tend to be clustered, and, no doubt because they are energy intensive, intermittent. These, and consider for example the case of ancient Greece, tend to be non-randomly distributed, hence are something more than ‘free action’. We assign them to our (undefined, save by periodization and geographical focus) ‘eonic determination’. We cannot avoid this distinction if we see that the innate abilities of members of particular cultural streams are probably evenly distributed in every generation, while periods of great advance are non-random, indeed in a sequential pattern. We see at once why people are puzzled by the Gutenberg Revolution, and the Chinese inventions of gunpowder, printing, the compass. The field of technical innovation can occur at random, hence to the most technically savvy. The flow of these innovations into the eonic sequence supercharges that sequence, but doesn’t cause it. We will note later the strong resemblance of the Greek transition, so-called, to the rise of the modern. Note that the first had none of this technology, while the second surged even further with them.
There is more to history than economics then. Historical materialism, left or right, was a great idea, but it is misleading us. The reason is that while economic activity can obviously influence society, the superstructure, its action is dependent on the social evolution of institutions to make it work at all. The modern world is often said to be a ‘capitalist age’, but that is not really the case, in the sense of a fixed stage of history, in the Marxist sequence. The rise of the modern, the transition, after all, was mercantilist. What we call capitalism suddenly crystallized near our ‘divide’. The general change of culture was very open ended. So far from being the teleological outcome of economic stages of history, the new capitalism is an ad hoc outcome whose effects required and received immediate challenge from the left.
3.5.3 An (Eonic) Outline of History
As we look at the eonic effect in the greater context of world history, we discover its significance as the evolution of civilization in a fresh definition. We have a sudden perception of a system operating in a frequency pattern, which we can formulate as a hypothesis. This requires moving backwards toward the Neolithic to find the possible source of the dynamic we see. We can then put that hypothesis on the backburner and proceed with the core eonic effect as an empirical given, a superb way to outline world history, starting in the next chapter. We require no beliefs about this hypothesis to proceed in the use and understanding of the eonic effect, but we suspect that our pattern is a cyclical system sourcing in the Neolithic.
A Frequency Hypothesis Our perception of the eonic pattern suggests a system operating in a frequency pattern, strange as that might seem. Since we clearly as seeing only a fragment of a greater pattern we will simple formulate a hypothesis for future research. In the nonce, we can examine a sort of ‘core eonic effect’, the basic sequence since the period of Egypt, Sumer. We don’t need the full pattern to proceed. Like a puzzle, isolated pieces falling together can show meaning. We should note that the earlier antecedent to the phase of Egypt/Sumer is already visible, but still too fuzzy to be conclusive. So we almost have a four beat sequence, greatly increasing the odds towards our hypothesis.x
In a complex and ingenious pattern our eonic sequence, operating on the surface of a planet, stages globalization via a set of localized hotspots, shifting into high gear every 2400 years, leapfrogging its prior action in a frontier effect.
(Eonic) globalization It is important to distinguish our sense of globalization from the current ‘economic globalization’ that we see in our current modern context. Globalization in our sense is the action of the eonic sequence, as it generates a global set of transitional zones in cultural transformations at the highest level of culture (macro-action). Economic, or other, diffusionist globalization has a different, too often, savage character, and too often degenerates rapidly, becoming counterproductive implosive mayhem (micro-action).
In fact, the pattern of eonic data shows us unexpectedly how to proceed (up to a point) with the idea of a science of history/evolution, however we reconcile the two. They fit together, and yet generate a contradiction. We are drawn into the classic dilemma obstructing a science of history, now suddenly with a solution shown by nature in the eonic effect. We see the solution, but can we understand it? We will soon discover the close connection between our enquiry and a classic theme of the philosophy of history, and this will give us an ‘idea for a universal history’, in a phrase of the philosopher Kant, whose essay on history suggests a framework to organize our thinking. This essay unwittingly asks a question, which we can call Kant’s Challenge, the answer to which we have stumbled on with our eonic data. We have the answer, but what was the question? We have discovered what Kant called ‘Nature’s Secret Plan’, translated into our systems analysis.
A distinction of System Action and Free Action gives us a way to deal with the basic antinomy of causality and freedom that bedevils any ‘science of history’ as this wistfully yields to the hope for a ‘science of freedom’.
System Action, Free Action: One side purpose of our model: to table the idea of a science of history, but to adjust to the contradiction in any such project. We have already introduced the distinction of ‘system action’ and ‘free action’, or macro-action and micro-action. But the only real option for our model is to construct an outline using periodization, a kind of animated Table of Contents. The outline is the model. The dynamic is unseen, all we see is the eonic sequence, and the oscillations of degrees of freedom in the rhythm of macro and micro-action. We can describe history around micro-action, evolution around macro-action. The intersection of the two produces the creative self-consciousness we see in the eonic pattern. It is important to consider that macro-action is always made up of micro-action.
The source of the enigma lies in the unmistakable violation of historical continuity our pattern shows in plain sight. There is no causal antecedent in the immediate pre-history of our transitions. We generate spontaneous questions like ‘What caused the Axial Age?’, or ‘What causes freedom?’, questions fated to limp off to a Kant clinic. And our problem is certainly reminiscent of Hume’s strictures on causal thinking. Like Captain Nemo and the Professor all we can do is put on goggles and stare into the reactor core, the freedom generator. This situation is a remarkable rendition of Kant’s Third Antinomy one the scale world history itself. Thus, before proceeding we need to be clear about historical theories, and as we lay out our eonic sequence we will discover still another beautiful version of our paradox: inside our eonic sequence we will discover what we can call the discrete freedom sequence, the eerie timing of the double appearance of democracy in the macro sequence.
As we look at the eonic effect in the greater context of world history, we discover its significance as the evolution of civilization in a fresh definition. We have a sudden perception of a system operating in a frequency pattern, which we can formulate as a hypothesis. We can then put that hypothesis on the backburner and proceed with the core eonic effect as an empirical given.
We can start to head backwards in search of the eonic effect: the eonic sequence. And inside that sequence we discover the ‘discrete freedom sequence’. What defines the ‘modern’? Science? Secularism? An economic society? Technology? The Protestant Reformation? The rise of the West? We should stand back to see the relation of modernism to a greater historical whole. Then we can suggest that it occurs as a function of time in a general sequence. Indeed, also, of place. The riddle of the modern is easy to resolve, if we zoom out, and we need to move backwards toward antiquity to find the relations of eras among themselves. Then, we will see that world history falls naturally into three massive clusters, seen in three turning points, equally spaced, and echoing each other, with a very ingenious placement of successive eras. This is an empirical fact, to which we will try to bring some elements of theory.
TP1 the ‘birth of civilization’,
TP2 the rise of the classical civilizations, the Axial period,
TP3 the onset of the modern world,
Thus, the solution to the riddle of modernity is to look at the larger scale. Then we see that we have no choice but to adopt this approach, or something like it. Large-scale historical transformations simply start out of nowhere. And then we notice the resemblance to the modern case. In fact, the rise of the modern is almost like a repeat of the Greek Axial period. In one way, this approach makes no sense. To introduce the idea of discontinuity seems to invoke an artificial device. But it will help us drop the fruitless quest for a causal theory of modernism, and simply look at blocks arranged in a pattern over millennia, the reason for our original perplexity becomes obvious.
From the Reformation to the Enlightenment the foundations are laid for a new era of world history. By the beginning of the nineteenth century the basic innovations are set. Then the three-cornered hat passed into the early versions of the business suit, as a threshold or divide was crossed in the generation after the French Revolution. We assume we are advancing from this period, but the reality is that it creates a plateau effect. In part this is the result of the rise of science, or so it seems. But a closer look shows a broader series of innovations.
Postmodern Illusions It is significant that our sense of the modern is faithfully reflected, if antagonistically, in the spontaneous sense of the postmodern. Note the term ‘modern’ is ‘eonic’, i.e. a reference to periodization, time. Our basic declared viewpoint is, or might be, that of the Enlightenment. But, all at once, this is under attack, and in general our perspective is not the same as, or need not be, ‘endorsing’ some Enlightenment viewpoint or ‘Project’ Instead, we are in the wake of one of these, forced into a dilemma of objectivity: are we postmodern critics of the Enlightenment or Enlightenment critics of postmodern deviation from historical directionality? We don’t have to decide. But after a while, with the right scale, we can see the most obvious significance of the Enlightenment period all over again, in stark simplicity, as a new era challenges antiquity.
Our modernism is a far broader result than the Enlightenment, and constitutes an overall integration of elements from religion, to science, to culture. It is not a very complicated problem. History fights back. The great Ionian Enlightenment didn’t make it, and was buried for millennia. Perhaps some prefer a Spenglerian future. Sometimes the issue of the Holocaust is raised as a challenge to modernity, or the Enlightenment. While the question should haunt any perspective on history whatsoever, it is entirely odd to lay the blame for this at the doorstep of modernity. That postmodern Spenglerian future is there, close at hand, if you want that. We will soon see another example, the decline of antiquity in the wake of the Axial Age. Another turning point seems to have lost its impetus, and a second reverse turning, more like meandering, undid much of its effect. In fact the rise of the modern seems to pick up where a second turning point left off. What’s going on? Look at the Greek Axial period. Then at the Hellenistic. Then at the postmodern phenomenon. Nothing says our turning points will prove lasting. Once they are done the direction deviates, perhaps. Is this happening again?
The whole period from the Reformation up to the nineteenth century creates a net effect that forces the issue of global renewal. That’s the point. It doesn’t matter what ‘ism’ we assign to it, by 1800 it is a fait accompli. The unity of advance in all fields is stunning, but we tend to see it incorrectly due to the exclusion of large-scale history. We see this as the rise of the West in some consideration of what we call ‘Western Civilization’. But we are starting to see that the rise of the modern is connected to a greater whole and that we need a new ‘fundamental unit of analysis’ beyond the ‘civilization’, to use the phrase of Toynbee. The evolution of an autonomous civilization doesn’t quite work as a concept if the real issue is one of timing and the diffusion of information. ‘Modernity’ is a concept of periods, of timing, not of civilizations.
A New Age of Democracy Let us track the history of democratic emergence in our system, to begin to notice something extraordinary: twice in a row, democracy shows correlated jump-start emergence in the eonic sequence, more, just at the point of the divide. We see the sudden appearance of a string of democratic revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century, just as our modern transition is concluding. We can see that this is no coincidence. Why might this be? All at once we suspect the reason, armed with a ‘frequency deduction’. A system that ‘generates freedom’ can’t overdetermine the result. It must be men who create their own freedom. Yet outside the eonic sequence democracy (before the modern period) is rare, non-existent, our eonic something needs to give it a boost. The point of the divide is exactly the right moment, when macro-action stops and micro-action takes over. The modern American democratic experiment follows this logic exactly, and we see a mysterious constellation of brilliant founders just at the divide, followed by a functioning democratic experiment settling into a steady state. Clearly democracy as micro-action is at risk as it sets sail into the uncharted waters of its mideonic period.
The perception of the rise of the modern is the mirror image of our intuitive perception of the Middle Ages. This medieval period is a phenomenon that we take for granted, and which stands in ironic relation to our ideas of progress (which remarkably go into postmodern decline promptly after the modern transition). Sometimes it is the ‘Dark Ages’, though not everywhere so dark.
A Middle Age It is significant that we spontaneously use the term ‘middle age’, as if we already understood the eonic effect. We are immersed in the cascade of modern things, yet clock this from an arbitrary starting point, the end of a middle period. This is a good example of the way we already sense an ‘eonic effect’, in isolation, without realizing its significance. This chronicling begins in the sixteenth century. We should be confronted with the question, What is this ‘medieval’ period in the middle of?
The pieces of our puzzle fall into place quite easily once we have rightly posed our question of the rise of the modern in terms of its mirror image, a middle, if not a decline and fall. We see the rise of the modern, after a decline and fall, and the rise before this decline brings us to the age of the Roman Republic, and this to the world ca. -600, where a host of changes is rapidly transforming the world it finds. Even as we insert a place marker, to zoom in for close observation, we should wonder, why stop there, just under two and a half millennia separate two punctuations. We shall be curious in advance of the period, now finally an object of archaeological enquiry, taken by an equal interval to about -3000, our destination.
Decline and Fall: The Idea of Progress The rise of the modern is directly connected to our ideas of progress. All at once we can see that there is a dynamic behind this, but of a slightly different kind.
It would seem that progress had dried up at the fall of the Roman Empire, and come to a halt. The difficulties in the idea of progress are essential to explore, for its current form doesn’t quite match the evidence, if we had wished to extend it to an evolutionary context. Promptly its critics are in ascendant. But a facile critique of the idea of progress too often forgets its ultimate implication: the renunciation of the hard won victories of modern revolutions in pulling out of a kind of global slump. The idea of progress is attacked on evolutionary and religious grounds, but we will both embrace the idea and generalize it to a less ideological version, as eonic progression.
We are ready to move backwards again toward antiquity in search of the right perspective on the rise of the modern world. We have asked ‘middle of what?’ There can be only one answer, and we can move on, to examine the onset of our middle period. As we explore the world of the Classical Greeks we know that we are in the presence of another or our seminal eras, further, that as we zoom in on the phenomenon, it shows a strong resemblance with the rise of the modern world.
The Axial Age Our riddle is solved at once, then, by slightly extending the range of examination, to see that while there may be a local explanation for decline, there must be a global explanation for the rise. Our model won’t tell us why Rome declined, only that its (relative) genesis is in the great seminal era of cyclical upturn. We are at the point of seeing the one great clue to the emergence, as evolution, of civilization itself, in this strange phenomenon of synchronous acceleration. All across Eurasia, from Rome, to Greece, to the Near East, to India, and China, we see a sudden burst of cultural acceleration, with a center of gravity around -600, the time of the Exile in the case of Israel. We are back at our starting point, the mysterious drumbeat sounding across Eurasia in the period from ca. -900, and over by -400.
Beginning in the nineteenth century this perception of synchronous emergence in classical antiquity began to crystallize. The number of cultural processes that undergo rapid transformation in this period is remarkable, and it is not until modern times that we see anything comparable. One problem is that the scale of the process is tremendous, the study of five time slices in parallel. The logistics defeats observation, like a blind man reading a Braille text of a movie script. We don’t quite see the spectacular effect. Normal historiography specializes in the part, but this requires a greater whole. Thus specialized study tends to lose perspective on the echoing parallels reverberating across Eurasia as this drumbeat clocks multiple innovations appearing in the ongoing momentum of the target areas. The Old Testament unwittingly suggests the time-frame for this interval, from after around -900 to the proximate period around -600, if we distinguish carefully a kind seminal period from its first spectacular fruits in the rough two centuries after -600.
Thus, in the clearest case we see the world of the Greeks emerge from its so-called Dark Age, suddenly begin a quiet transformation in the Archaic, then flower in spectacular fashion after -600, significantly the period of Solon. The change in character of the phenomenon shows how it is quite suddenly on the wane after around -400, and within a few centuries men are looking backwards to this era as an historical enigma. The remarkable thing is that we see this synchronous phenomenon in a fashion that transcends the possibilities of cross diffusion, which are nonetheless considerable. The Israelites had heard of the Iliad, there is an influence, but we cannot explain the one from the other. We might thus include the emergence of Rome as an additional independently emergent center, yet we see it more clearly as a variant of the Greek city state expansion characteristic of the Greek Archaic, that is, in part a case of diffusion. But with Greece, Israel, India and China we have no basis to claim that one triggers the other. We get the suggestion of something occurring ‘on schedule’.
All we can really do is to try and observe this phenomenon by setting out rough periodization boundaries. Later, on the analog of the modern we can partition our Axial phase as transition and divide, which is easy to spot. We will examine this ‘differential boundary’ below as being about -900 to -600. This puts a ‘divide’ near -600, after which we find a brief flowering followed by a rapid fall-off. It is almost eerie. Within a generation or two the character of the Greek era changes gears and a great flowering is over (this falloff and the divide are not the same). We had thought that coincidental, but it falls like ripe fruit into our periodization scheme. The factor of eonic determination is waning, and the high-octane fuel starts to be exhausted. The ‘punctuation’ is over and the eonic emergents head out under their own steam, if they survive at all. Greek democracy and tragedy don’t survive.
A Birth of Democracy Let us continue to track the history of democratic emergence in our system, to note once again: twice in a row, democracy shows correlated jump-start emergence in the eonic sequence, more, just at the point of the divide. Twenty-four hundred years to the decade separate Solon and the modern divide! We see the sudden appearance of a string of democratic revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century, just as our modern transition is concluding. In the Axial period, we see the fragile Athenian experiment emerge from ‘raw republicanism’ in the sixth century. To repeat, we can see that this is no coincidence. Clearly democracy as micro-action is at risk as it sets sail into the uncharted waters of its mideonic period!
We can probably extend this backwards to our first transition, the system of Sumerian city-states, but the data is blurred, and it is probable that emergent civilization is too primitive for democracy to appear.
This is clever sort of sequence. Note what it seems to be trying to do, globalize, but with a minimum principle. Like a pinball machine, the right thwack (relative transform) at the right spot, a little dose of high octane every several millennia. A straight intermittent sequence might be too weak to encompass the whole. It can’t overspecialize on one area, instead it seems to jump around. It needs to get as much done as possible at each brief step, perhaps with parallel experiments, to enrich the final whole. Actually there is no such ‘it’. We can specify no active agent doing anything, and soon discover that man does everything but some periods seem to stand out in an overall pattern.
We notice that our sequence splits in a mysterious synchrony, showing a truly global system at work as our turning points perform a spectrum distribution into parallel streams, as seen already in the Axial Age. How this works we don’t know, but the result is clear, and all of a sudden we see why the Axial Age puzzles us. Our sequence now looks like this, with eight hotspots:
The rise of civilization: Sumer, Egypt
The ‘Axial’ phase: Greece/Rome, Middle East (? Canaan), India, China
The rise of the modern: sector of Europe
Our eonic transitions are more complex than a simple sequence, they show parallel interactive emergence. That’s an immediate caution against naïve teleological thinking. Our system is a sort of multiple multitasking monster, branching out in different streams. Now we have the clue to the ‘Axial Age’: it shows sequence and parallelism, a shotgun approach, perhaps to increase the odds of success, or the quantity of variety. This is dangerous, the system could lose direction, and globalization will induce collision, although at the Axial period distance is still sufficient for local experiments. But it is probably no accident the next step in the eonic sequence shows a univalent pivot area moving toward universal transcultural categories. It must soon reset direction after its Axial spreading fan phase. Religion and secularism will then be destined to collide as the separate streams converge on a unified track.
It is pretty hard to produce a theory of this pattern, until we see its minimum principle, and we really have two theories in one, an Axial Age and general sequence, connected by their defiance of spatial and temporal continuity. Our pattern looks like a fragment, and is not starting at the beginning, but in the middle, perhaps in the Neolithic. We see three surges in a mainline that is not bound to a particular civilization. But it is a strange mainline, because it can also produce parallel effects in its surges. It seems to start in two places, not one.
The Frontier Effect There is one more crucial property, the ‘acorn or frontier effect’. Note that something global is occurring starting in a series of local areas. But the sequence restarts in a new place each time, just at the frontier of its predecessor. The world of Archaic Greece is a frontier relative to the center of gravity of civilization. The world of Canaan, spawning ‘Israel’, does not look like a frontier now, but in the era of the mythical Abraham it certainly was, and we even have a ‘pioneer’ story about his leaving the city of Ur in a prime diffusion source, the world of prior Sumer.
This property makes complete sense. If we restart too far away, the sequence can’t continue. But if we are too close, the momentum of the earlier stage will overwhelm advance or make novelty abortive.
Again, A Middle Age: Detecting Sumer… We come once again to the same ambiguity with respect to the pre-Axial that we had with the definition of the modern age. The Axial period, like the rise of the modern, is a sudden upsurge in the flow of world history. The Old Testament gives testimony to existence of an immense age of prior civilization, and in fact stages its drama against the backdrop of the greater antiquity of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Buried in the Akkadian texts, like Latinate vestiges in modern languages, is the mysterious, and forgotten, Sumerian. Let us keep moving, using our long-range spotting tactics. We are at square one, with a sense of déjà vu after theories of the rise of the modern, a large discontinuity, and the search for causal explanation in the era just prior to that. What lies at the source of the Assyrians and Egyptians, so faithfully given a snapshot of their last phase by the upstart Israelites?
We suspect, as we head backwards again, the answer will be as before. We can almost guess what we might find. Is there anything resembling an explosive, fast advance period, of consistent novelties, albeit of relative beginnings in a time frame comparable, ca. 2400 years, to our previous case, yet earlier still?
It is thus clear that archaeology has found the so-far earliest phase of our eonic effect in the necessary, though minimum detail, and the result is so remarkable that we are almost stunned by the simplicity of the pattern.
The Birth of Civilization Thus, cities, state formation, and the civilizations with writing suddenly come together in the last centuries before -3000. Many archaeologists have remarked on the rapid emergence of higher civilization, and in fact the phenomenon of threshold crossing is obvious from the contrast of scales, before and after, especially in the case of Egypt. The use of the term ‘birth of civilization’ is conventional here, but requires caution. The beauty of our relative beginnings approach is that it emphasizes what we know by changing the label, yet forces us to consider the continuity behind the discontinuity. We must think the Neolithic should be included in this scheme, if we will once again move backwards. And, we note, we find Toynbee struggling with the inveterate causality problem that haunts our eonic effect. What caused the birth of civilization?
Going backward further, our data starts to become insufficient. The period of Egypt and Sumer, at their ‘beginnings’ near -3000, seem a bit primitive to us now, but constitutes what is probably the greatest transition in human history, the point at which the most basic fundamentals of man’s ‘civil condition’ came into existence over a substrate of previously achieved agricultural life. Substitute bullock carts, a great advance, for freight trains, and ingots of gold for high finance, and we have a massive ‘modernization’ period in the wake of Sumer. And it did so with remarkable speed, and yet in a fashion not contradicting slow evolution. And there is more than a family resemblance to the phase of ‘modernism’ we claim exclusively for the achievements of our own time, if we look at the same five hundred years of the Sumerian emergence, three hundred of rapid advance, and two of stabilizing crystallization after -3000, from its ‘Medieval’ sources in the religiously preoccupied world that came before of the Ubaid, and the Uruk.
Invisible Transitions? We are suspicious of the Neolithic, we are missing something. We can keep on going backwards…
Unfortunately, at this point, before the invention of writing, we run out of close-range data. We can see clearly, however, that we only have one half of our pattern. We now see the significance of what we call the birth of civilization, which is classifiable as one of our ‘relative transformations’ in what we suspect is a series going backward into the Neolithic. Look at the medieval period leading to the sudden rise of the modern. Now look at the antecedents to the sudden crossing of a threshold in Egypt and Sumer. The resemblance is exact.
Invisible Transitions Let us extrapolate backwards to create a ‘retro-diction’, and leave the issue open to future research. We do that by applying our model of ‘transitions, equally spaced’, to the whole period starting before the Neolithic, with an interval of about 2400 years. This generalization is not yet confirmed, but illustrates the meaning of the data we do have very well indeed. This extension will in fact keep our statements honest, because we might forget that our data is incomplete. We are dealing with a fragment. In a fuzzy way the fit is good, to say the least. We can almost spot two prior transition zones and interval.
Our model is highly artificial but works so unreasonably well in the range provided that we are hot on the scent of a more general pattern.
Transition 1 ?Mesolithic transitions
Transition 2 ?Proximate start of Neolithic ca. -8000
Transition 3 ?The Middle Neolithic interval ca. -5400
Transition 4: The birth of civilization, interval before -3000
Transition 5: The ‘Axial’ period, interval before -600
Transition 6: The early modern, interval before 1800
We are already suspicious of the period in the sixth millennium, and there is an already filling gap in our knowledge in the area to the north of Sumer in the Fertile Crescent. A highlands culture zone to the north of Sumer seems to flow outward into the Mesopotamian area, in a frontier effect, prior to the historical period. We nearly have a four beat sequence.
There is an obvious catch to this argument, which is that the rise of civilization might be simply a new phase of long term evolution, and that there is nothing much to find in the earlier period of man, save possibly at the period of the first appearance of homo sapiens sapiens. That is, our later sequence could itself be an overall ‘interrupt’ of evolutionary acceleration. That, however, is doubtful, since the unseen stages and primordial beginnings are as much in need of the driving factor as the more advanced. In many ways the rationalization of culture as Civilization begins with farming, it is all of a piece. From hunter-gatherer is a big step, almost an ‘industrial revolution’. Since our model requires only regions and innovative individuals it would be more than able to handle generalizations prior to state formation. There is a uniformity to the entire era beginning with the Neolithic. We must find a region for which later Sumer was once the frontier. Consider by this reasoning the period ca 5700 to 5400 somewhere to the North of Sumer. We can almost see a transition here. We can calculate this might be a candidate for a transitional culture. But we can’t be sure because we don’t have enough data. First we need data, then maybe we can find the secondary data of relative transforms in the exact periodization, a tough requirement. Transition 3 in our list begins to look promising, as we will see in Chapter 4.
The Significance of Israel Now consider the history of Israel. This was a novel breakthrough area armed for the first time with the new technology of writing, and they actually recorded a phase period, and the onset of a new religion. This earlier era didn’t have writing, so we don’t know. And without that closely tracked data we default back to the ‘slow evolution’ mode of explanation, something the Judaic data would not let us do. Now proceed backwards still further into the Paleolithic. We are in the midst of full-blown ‘slow evolution’ theories, assuming that fast transitions do not occur. Yet by incremental steps backward we could suspect that religious and cultural transitions might be occurring in more primitive fashion at these earlier times.
We must forever be vigilant about jumping to conclusions about historical evolution. Proponents of flat history consider themselves ‘non-speculative’ but they may prove the worst offenders. As we complete our tour we can see that ‘flat history’ is a species of religious faith in a myth of continuity.
Apply this reasoning to the earlier speculations on the Great Explosion, and we see at once the dangers of assuming anything.
3.5.4 World Line of The Eonic Observer
Short of a science of history, we need someone to be a simple observer of the eonic effect. We can call him an ‘eonic observer’. He can definitely aspire to a science of history, and to be a Universal Observer, and yet that is the whole point, he is limited by the time and circumstance of historical immersion, and ideological participation. The first and most telling example of the eonic observer lies with the redactors of the Old Testament, who were unwittingly observing the Axial Age. Our observer can be immersed in history and still record ‘eonic data’. He should graduate to ever larger data sets and be collecting data over many millennia, at the end of which he starts to do theory. It would be nice to be outside of time, or in a rocket module in orbit, going into suspended animation during off periods. In fact, he is embedded in history, and going through paradigm changes in each of our transitions, executing scripts in each revolution. That is all of us. Every time we use the term ‘modern’ we are observing the eonic effect, looking backward. We are all eonic observers. We use terms like ‘rise of the modern’, the ‘middle ages’, the ‘age of revelation’, and so on. For real science we should be objective observers, assessing data to be put in a time capsule until the end of the eonic sequence, if ever. The last eonic observers, if any, might have a hard time seeing how the data was filtered through the local paradigm of his previous incarnations.
Thus, we can make a formal idea out of the observer of the eonic effect. We can invoke the image of an ‘eonic observer’, with a serious or humorous image of a scientific type, jungle hat, library card, lab smock and clipboard, stop watch, rocket ship, anthropologist and time and motion man of civilization, with his atomic stopwatch designed for time measurements on the order of millennia. One more piece of equipment: a paper stamp labeled ‘Eonic Data’. Wishing to be a neutral observer, he finds himself temporally bound, and his theories prone to become scripts to create further history. We will see this type in several manifestations already embedded in history, and the section on ‘Axial Ages and Eonic Observers’ will show the birth our type. We need with some urgency to apply that paper stamp to the Old Testament, ‘Eonic Data’.
The point is also that the observer and his observed history cannot be separated in any attempt at a science of history. As we will see, the debate, for example, between the ancients and the moderns is at one and the same time observing, and yet also creating, the transition to the modern. This model will automatically reproduce this kind of property. This factor will clearly help us to sort out the Old Testament account of history, whose observations are of the eonic effect, not the action of a divinity. Our eonic observer is thus present, for example, among those who have noticed the ‘rise of the modern’, an eonic observation, and while his stance should be to put the data into a time-capsule, until the next or last ‘period transition in the sequence’, he is prone to interact with the dataset in the present to create the outcome of the last observer phase of the eonic effect. To do theory he must ‘pull rank’ on everyone, and this creates the problem that he tends to be inside the potential well of his most recent data, viz. here the modern.
Now note something remarkable. Look at the Old Testament. It is good example of a time capsule of eonic data by eonic observers casting their observations according to their local paradigm, which was itself going through eonic transformation up to the time of the redaction, which starts explicitly in the period of the Exile and thence onward. Thus emergent Judaic monotheism, as an eonic emergent, was the paradigm used to record the local perception of the eonic effect, at that cycle. Canaanite polytheism suddenly turned into monotheism (actually we look later at the ‘relative transform’ effect, and the influence of Zoroastrianism), and at the end of the transition the ‘eonic observers’ used the output of the transformation to record their data. Confusing, but we can extract the data as ‘eonic observations of a transition’. We would like to record our own eonic data as a superset of this data, plus much else, using the protocols of science. But note that we would tend to do the same thing again, use the paradigm outcome of the modern transition, i.e. a scientific language, to record that data. Le plus ça change.
So one task of the modern eonic observer is to reassess the place of the Old Testament in the records of eonic observers, quite a controversial task.
4. Idea For A Universal History
4.1 A Short History of the World
Our project to resolve Kant’s Challenge, with an ‘Idea for a Universal History’, as a chronicle of freedom, gives us a framework for a short outline of world history, and this will answer to the confusions of a science of history. Such a history is really about man’s self-consciousness moving between freedom and the causal streams in which he is immersed. The eonic effect generates something our postmodern fashion dislikes, a ‘grand narrative’, indeed, one of freedom, and we can pursue this genre now without apology, as we ‘deconstruct flat history’. The ambiguity of Kant’s essay, which seems to contradict itself, as a question about the future and also as a seeming conflict theory, is a fascinating twist to our discovery of evolution in history.
The eonic effect shows the elegant and simple solution to the paradox of evolution and history: they are braided together and appear Janus-faced, evolution as System Action, history as Free Action. ‘Evolution’ (which we qualify as ‘eonic’ evolution) is invisible to the naked eye, but suddenly becomes apparent as we look backwards at its action, as with the data of the Axial Age. Everything looked like ‘free action’, but with time and distance we see the (short-acting) interval of ‘system action’. Increased distance from the ‘modern transition’ at the conclusion of our history allows us to see better the answer to Kant’s question, and to uncover the evidence of ‘nature’s secret plan’ in action. We should note that we have chosen an empirical foundation, the eonic effect, for our perspective. This is not a ‘theory’ but a way to organize our concepts and remove from our minds some of the confusions that might block our perception of the remarkable process of self-organization we see in world history.
It is time to proceed with a short world history, which has suddenly been found to show a remarkable overall coherence. If we can ‘see’ the eonic effect in its plain obviousness as a pattern over five millennia, the issues of evolution and history will become clear. We can succeed because we don’t require metaphysical theories. Instead a pattern of empirical data, the eonic effect, contains its own resolution of the dynamics of both evolution and history, history as the emergence of freedom.
Idea For a Universal History We can examine our resolution of Kant’s Challenge empirically as we examine the ‘evolution of freedom’ via a world history constructed around the eonic series, or sequence.
Nature’s Secret Plan As we noted already, Kant’s essay asks us to uncover ‘nature’s secret plan’, and this will, remarkably, emerge from our outline.
The Birth of Democracy Our outline of history is built around an ‘eonic sequence’ and inside this we will discover the remarkable pattern of the birth of democracy, which we will nickname the ‘discrete freedom sequence’, a spectacular confirmation of our procedure.
Progress Toward a Civil Constitution Another aspect of Kant’s Challenge is to document the ‘progress toward a civil constitution’, and the eonic effect powerfully shows a strong correlation with just this, and we have just suggested that democracy itself is bound up in the eonic sequence, as it seems to generate the first beginnings of democracy in both the Axial Age and in modernity (which makes us suspicious that the earliest stage of civilization shows an earlier phase of its emergence).
Big Histories, Universal Histories It is useful to put together the recent idea of Big History with that of the older idea of Universal History, to create a unity between the two. The confusions of a science of history have been resolved in a framework for what we call the ‘evolution of freedom’.
Free Will, Self-consciousness The degree of freedom of our action in history, presumes ‘free will’, but in practice we see the fluctuations of self-consciousness in the interplay of System Action, and Free Action. This hybrid is what reconciles causality and freedom. Evolution acts via self-consciousness. Man must step beyond the spell of evolution to create his own freedom in history. Self-consciousness becomes the vehicle of free will.
The evidence of historical directionality puts us in the macro history business whether we like it or not. Behind our narrative outline lies a powerful model of the formalism of evolution, macro and micro.
The Formalism of Evolution We can summarize our basic framework: we have a reciprocal relationship of evolution and history, macro and micro, System Action and Free Action, and this braided unity of the two is leading to the realization of freedom in history at the end of the eonic sequence. We see that human evolution was not completed in the Paleolithic, but continuing in the emergence of civilization. Evolution is intermittent, geographically focused, and evident from the relative transformations of culture that drive advance. The